The Biblical Illustrator
1 Thessalonians 3
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2
Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone--There is a subtle play of feeling in the whole texture of these words.
On the one hand sadness--to be left alone in Athens; on the other, a bright and tender pleasure beyond resignation, a consent that was not extorted--“we were well pleased.” The former expression has about it a tinge of desertion and forlornness, as of leaving father and mother (Matthew 12:5; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:13; from Genesis 2:24, LXX); the sheep in the wilderness (Luke 15:4); the preaching of the Word (Acts 6:2). In the Old Testament, of one leaving wife or children by death (Deuteronomy 28:54; Proverbs 20:7, in LXX cf. Mark 12:19; Luke 20:31). The word is suffused, with a sadness which abides after a farewell. The word “alone” stands forcibly last. Upon the departure of Timothy, Paul and Silvanus felt themselves to be indeed alone. “Alone in London” has become a proverb. But there was something more to one like Paul in a place like Athens--the city which was so beautiful, but so far from God. (Bp. Alexander.)
A difficult and important mission
Paul had been compelled to leave Thessalonica in consequence of the malignant opposition of the Jews. But Timothy might venture where it would be perilous for the apostle to appear. Fearing that his absence might be misconstrued, and anxious to strengthen the faith of the infant Church in the midst of trial, the apostle determines to send a trusted messenger. It is a significant testimony to the sound judgment and prudence of Timothy, that he is selected for this difficult and important mission.
I. This misson was the suggestion of an uncontrollable anxiety. “Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear.” This anxiety sprang from the intensity of the apostle’s love. It is a striking feature of genuine Christian love, that while it bears external suffering with uncomplaining patience, it is impatient of delay in doing good. The mother can endure anything but restraint in her desire to promote the best welfare of her child. David was indifferent to exposure and danger, but his soul panted after God.
II. This mission involved great personal inconvenience. “At Athens alone.” True love, in its unselfishness, ever prefers another’s good to its own. Timothy had travelled so constantly with Paul, and had been so great a comfort, that his absence was a loss keenly felt. Specially was his sympathy and cooperation needed at Athens. What a sublime historical picture is pourtrayed in the words “at Athens alone.” Christianity embodied in a single, lonely man, standing in the midst of the populous metropolis of pagan culture and idolatry. Yet the power enshrined in that solitary man broke up and scattered the huge fabric of heathenism.
III. This mission was entrusted to a thoroughly qualified messenger. The high character of Timothy and his relations with Paul are brought out in the epithets--
1. Brother. Elsewhere Paul calls him his “own son in the faith,” his “dearly beloved son”; but in speaking of him to the Churches, he recognizes him on the equal footing of a brother.
2. Minister of God. Solemnly set apart by the voice of prophecy and by the hands of the presbytery, and of Paul himself.
3. Fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, not only as all God’s ministers are--i.e., working the work of the same Lord--but also on the ground of that special intimacy of personal intercourse and cooperation to which he was from the first admitted by the apostle. Thus Timothy was thoroughly qualified--
IV. This mission was charged with a work of high importance and necessity.
1. To establish, to confirm, or set fast their faith, by a fresh authoritative manifestation of the gospel truth and its Divine evidences; and this would be done by private conversation and public ministration.
2. To comfort. The word means also--and especially here--to exhort, though, doubtless, comfort would be mingled with the exhortation. The Thessalonians were exposed to the storm of persecution that was everywhere raging against the gospel and its adherents, and they were exhorted to steadfastness, “that no man should be moved by these afflictions.” Paul and Barnabas had a similar mission to the Churches in Lesser Asia (Acts 14:22). There are none so strong in faith but need confirmation; none so courageous but need comfort. Lessons--
1. The establishment of believers is ever a subject of anxiety to the true minister.
2. The desire to promote the highest welfare of the Church should ever be paramount. (G. Barlow.)
Paul and Timothy
I. The character Paul giveth of Timothy. Elsewhere he calls him “my son”; here he calls him “our brother.” Timothy was Paul’s junior in age, his inferior in gifts and graces, and of a lower rank in the ministry; for Paul was an apostle, and Timothy but an evangelist; yet Paul calls him “brother.” This was an instance of the apostle’s humility, and showed his desire to put honour upon Timothy, and to recommend him to the esteem of the Churches. He calls him also a “minister of God.” Ministers of the gospel of Christ are ministers of God, to promote the kingdom of God among men. He calls him also “our fellow labourer.” Ministers of the gospel must look upon themselves as labourers in the Lord’s vineyard; they have an honourable office and hard work, yet a good work (1 Timothy 3:1). And ministers should look upon one another as fellow labourers, and should therefore love one another, and strengthen one another’s hands; not strive and contend one with another, which will hinder their work; but strive together to carry on the great work they are engaged in--namely, to preach and publish the gospel of Christ, and to persuade people to embrace and entertain it, and live suitably thereto.
II. The design Paul had in sending Timothy. This was to establish the Thessalonians, and comfort them concerning their faith. Paul had converted them to the Christian faith, and now he was desirous they might be confirmed and comforted--that they might be confirmed in the choice they had made of the Christian religion, and comforted in the profession and practice of it. The more we are comforted, the more we shall be confirmed; because, when we find pleasure in the ways of God, we shall thereby be engaged to continue and persevere therein. The apostle’s design, therefore, was a preeminently worthy one concerning his Thessalonian converts--their faith and the object of their faith, the truths of the gospel, and particularly that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world, and so wise and good, so powerful and faithful, that they might surely rely upon Him. He would also have them remember the recompense of faith, which was more than sufficient to balance all their losses and reward all their labours.
III. The motive inducing Paul thus to act. He cherished a godly fear or jealousy lest the Thessalonians should be moved from the faith of Christ. He was exceedingly desirous that not one among them should waver or apostatize; and yet he apprehended danger, and trembled for the consequence. They could not but perceive what afflictions the apostles met with; and also those who made profession of the gospel were persecuted, as without doubt these Thessalonians themselves were, and these evils might possibly stumble them. But the danger did not end here; there was the tempter’s subtlety and malice. He had often prejudiced the minds of men against religion on account of the sufferings its professors are exposed to, and he would do his utmost to damage the faith of these converts. Naturally, therefore, the apostle feared lest his labour should be in vain. To prevent the consequence of the danger, he sent Timothy to them to put them in mind that, as concerning affliction, they were appointed there unto. Troubles and persecutions do not come by chance, nor merely from the wrath and malice of the enemies of religion, but by the appointment or permission of God. (R. Fergusson.)
Alone in Athens
1. St. Paul puts upon himself the sacrifice of solitude in a strange city simply because it comes in the line of his duty. To his tastes ether appointments would be more agreeable. Some familiar place would suit better his longing for sympathy. He is a scholar, and would prefer retirement. He is the worn hero of many battles, and would like to rest in some peaceful household of faith. That he cannot do and be faithful; and this with any honest soul settles the question. At Athens, busy as he is, he remembers the affectionate little band left behind at Thessalonica.
2. In his person, on landing at the Piraeus, the morning light of the new age rose on a second continent. Yet everything was bleak, every face unfriendly. Any courage less valiant than his must have quailed before the overpowering splendour and despotism of old heathenism in its stronghold. Paul had come to it as fearless of its sophistries and arrogance as he had been of the swords and dungeons of Syria.
3. Without some common interests, cities are wildernesses and society the saddest of solitudes.
I. In God’s appointments there are two kinds of loneliness.
1. Outward and physical.
(a) Sometimes, by a shrinking turn of the constitution, or by natural reserve, or by lack of magnetic quality, or by a fatal propensity to say the wrong thing, or by necessities of occupation or residence, they are cut off from society.
(b) There is the solitude of temperament, the earnest heart all the while yearning for companionship, and yet strangely held back.
(c) There is a solitude of pride where social advantages are bitterly given up to escape making an appearance inferior to that of one’s class.
(d) There is the solitude of obligation, created by the necessities of toil or devotion, by poverty or pity, imprisoning body and mind alike.
(e) There is the solitude of bodily infirmity.
(a) A tendency to a belittling self-consideration. Finding nothing beyond self to fasten upon, affection stagnates or sours. Religion will have hard work to save such a life from contempt. It has been the snare of all monks.
(b) In other cases we see censoriousness. Rigid standards are applied to others. Allowances are not made for unavoidable differences, and so the first commandment of love is broken.
(c) Along with these bigoted ways of thinking, comes envy and cynicism. You have never had your fair chance. You are distanced by your contemporaries. Outside your sick chamber are the gay children of health and wealth. It needs a steady faith in God’s impartiality to keep down your discontent. So Martha felt her solitude--“Carest thou not that my sister hath left me”; and Peter--“What shall this man do?”--contrasting John’s brighter lot with his own martyrdom.
(d) Add to these a certain unwholesome fastidiousness, which is apt to arise from constant preoccupation with private tastes. The hand is withheld from many a useful office, and the tongue from many a cordial utterance. Opportunities for Christian benefaction are despairingly thrown away, and life miserably bereft of its true glory.
2. Involuntary and moral loneliness. While this, too, has its dangers, it may be made the occasion, as it was with Paul, of great spiritual gains.
II. The God of our lives puts into all of them some solitude for a purpose of His own.
1. He arranges it for us that we cannot be always in anybody’s company. Friend after friend departs. Misunderstandings arise. There is a night between every two days. Sickness is sent. Is it not plain that this is because the deepest and holiest exercises of the spirit are where no human presence is by?
2. Look back. If repentance ever took hold of you and bade you look up for mercy; if the great choice between God and self was ever made, was it not when you were alone with your Saviour.
3. Before the Spirit has done His deepest and best work in you, He will have you all to Himself. The question of everlasting love is a private question--“Wilt thou be Mine forever?” Each succeeding struggle, when we make the tremendous sacrifice which carries us clear of some entangling alliance, is solitary work. Great griefs are solitary--the heart breaks alone.
4. Our communion with Christ only obeys the law of all lofty delicate friendships. Intervention is interruption; and even the best society on earth is not good enough to divide your intercourse with your Master.
III. Loneliness sometimes becomes lonesomeness. The excessively secluded life is imbittered by a craving for sympathy. This would have been Paul’s feelings at Athens, and he would not have thought it “good” to be left there, but for the one Divine Friend who stayed with him. It is in His felt presence that those hearts are to find their consolation which are separated from their kind. However thronged the streets or brilliant the season, these uncheered souls are all around us. By far the greater number of us have hours when we long for nothing so much as to hear some fellow soul say “I know how you suffer; one heart at least answers to yours.” There are constitutions finely tempered which need continual protection, but have it only under coarse, sordid hands, lacerating wherever they touch. There are self distrustful, timid creatures, tortured with a despairing sense of failure who never get an encouraging look. What is the comfort? Only one. For all these the Man of sorrows is the only companion, and His hidden love the only consolation. What would Athens have been to Paul without his Saviour?
IV. Christ’s blessing rests as graciously on our more secluded and least noticed services for Him as upon the most conspicuous of His workmen. Paul the despised missionary at Athens is as sure of his Saviour’s presence and benediction as when the populace of Lystra are hailing him as a god. We are slow to learn that the spirit of the gospel is no more in the assembly of ten thousand than where one tired labourer watches by the sick orphan, or one daughter of fortune and culture cheerfully crucifies every taste to teach a group of unclean vagabonds how to pray. We hurry into publicity as if that were heaven, and are impatient to count converts and see results, as if that were salvation. The most glorious chronicles and monuments of Athens are not in her letters, temples, arms, but in that little record of the friendless traveller who thought it good to be left there alone. (Bp. Huntington.)
The solitude of a great city
(cf. Acts 17:16-17)
I. Affords a painful opportunity to reflect on its moral condition: “He saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”
II. Awakens profound concern in a great soul: “His spirit was stirred in him.”
III. Rouses to immediate action in promoting the welfare of the citizens: “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue and in the market daily.” (G. Barlow.)
Think of God working in the solitary things, for the grass does not merely grow around our populous cities, but up there on the side of the bleak Alps, where no traveller has ever passed. Where only the eye of the wild bird has beheld their lovely verdure, the moss and the grass come to perfection, and display all their beauty, for God’s works are fair to other eyes than those of mortals. And you solitary child of God, dwelling far away from any friend, unknown and obscure, in remote hamlet; or you in the midst of London, hiding away in your little garret, unknown to fame and forsaken by friendship, you are not forgotten by the love of heaven. He maketh the grass to grow all alone, and shall He not make you flourish in loneliness? He can bring forth your graces, and educate you for the skies, in solitude and neglect. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Loneliness with some is unfavourable to virtue
A monk who could fast seven days in the monastery tried to do the same thing alone in the desert. The effort was too much for him. He gave out the first day. “How came you to fail?” was the question put to him when he returned. “Ah,” said the monk, “when I fast in the monastery I have the prior and the brethren to look on and encourage me.”
I. There are two classes of solitude. The first consisting of insulation in space, the other of isolation of the spirit.
1. The first is simply separation by distance. When we are seen, touched, and heard by none, we are said to be alone. And all hearts respond to the truth of that saying. This is not solitude, for sympathy can people our solitude with a crowd. The fisherman on the ocean alone at night is not alone when he remembers the earnest longings which are arising up to heaven for his safety. The traveller is not alone when the faces which will greet him on his arrival seem to beam upon him as he trudges on. The solitary student is not alone when he feels that human hearts will respond to the truths which he is preparing to address to them.
2. The other is loneliness of soul. There are times when hands touch ours, but only send an icy chill of indifference to the heart; when eyes gaze into ours, but with a glazed look that cannot read into the bottom of our souls; when words pass from our lips but only come back as an echo reverberated without reply through a dreary solitude; when the multitudes throng and press us, and we cannot say as Christ did, “Somebody hath touched Me”; for the contact has been not between soul and soul, but between form and form.
II. There are two classes of men who feel this last solitude in different ways.
1. The first are the men of self-reliance--self-dependent; who ask no counsel and crave no sympathy, who act and resolve alone, who can go sternly through duty, and scarcely shrink let what will be crushed in them. Such men command respect: for whoever respects himself constrains the reverence of others. They are invaluable in all those professions of life in which sensitive feeling would be a superfluity: they make iron commanders, surgeons who do not shrink, and statesmen who do not flinch from their purpose for dread of unpopularity. But mere self-dependence is weakness; and the conflict is terrible when a human sense of weakness is felt by such men. Jacob was alone when he slept in his way to Padan Aram, the first night that he was away from his father’s roof, with the world before him, and all old associations broke up; and Elijah was alone in the wilderness when the court had deserted him, and he said, “I only am left.” But the loneliness of the tender Jacob was very different from that of the stern Elijah. To Jacob the sympathy he yearned for was realized in the form of a simple dream. A ladder raised from earth to heaven figured the possibility of communion between the spirit of man and the Spirit of God. In Elijah’s case the storm and the earthquake and the fire did their convulsing work in the soul before a still, small voice told him that he was not alone. In such a spirit the sense of weakness comes with a burst of agony, and the dreadful conviction of being alone manifests itself with a rending of the heart of rock. It is only so that such souls can be touched that the Father is with them and that they are not alone.
2. There is another class of men who live in sympathy. These are affectionate minds which tremble at the thought of being alone; not from want of courage or weakness of intellect comes their dependence upon others, but from the intensity of their affections. It is the trembling spirit of humanity in them. They want not aid, nor even countenance, but only sympathy. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The risks of solitude
The self-diabolizing spirit of man always reveals itself to the lonely contemplatist, either in moments of vacancy, or under the stress of spiritual crises. Eve was tempted when she was alone; the suicide succumbs when he is pushed into the last degree of loneliness; the darkest thoughts of the conspirator becloud the mind when he has most deeply cut the social bond: when man is alone, he loses the check of comparison with others; he miscalculates his force, and deems too little of the antagonisms which that force may excite. All these are among the risks of solitude. The solitary man either degenerates into a misanthrope and the tool of the diabolizing spirit, or he enriches and strengthens his life by reverent and subduing contemplation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 3:2-3
And send Timotheus
Timothy and his mission
This is the first of a long series of similar missions.
As the context shows, the youthful evangelist gave full proof of his ministry from the first.
I. The qualifications of the messenger.
1. Brotherhood. The man sent on an errand of mercy must have--
(a) Might to his utterances, when his solitary authority would be questioned or ignored.
(b) Comfort in hours of despondency and loneliness, in the thought that he has sympathy and has brethren to fall back upon.
(a) Haughty superiority: “Lord over God’s heritage.” His office may be more dignified, but his spiritual nature is the same: “One is your Master,” etc.
(b) Feminine weakness--such as would pander to tastes and humours; fear to rebuke; suppress unpalatable truth. Brotherliness is the manly love of another’s soul.
(c) Selfish motives. The minister is to save men, not make money out of them: “I seek not yours, but you.” As brothers our interests are common.
2. Divine ministry. A true minister is--
(a) Courage: “I have made thy face as a flint.”
(b) Expectation of success: “My word shall not return unto Me void.”
3. Labour. The ministry is a “work” involving--
II. The purpose of his errand.
(a) Is shown to be well grounded: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.”
(b) Is stimulated into vigorous exercise--
(c) When its end, “the salvation of your souls,” is kept steadily before the eye.
Ministers of joy
Some men move through life as a band of music moves down the street, flinging out pleasure on every side through the air to every one, far and near, that can listen. Some men fill the air with their presence and sweetness, as orchards in October days fill the air with perfume of ripe fruit. Some women cling to their own houses, like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, sweeten all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. There are trees of righteousness which are ever dropping precious fruit around them. There are lives that shine like star beams, or charm the heart like songs sung upon a holy day. How great a bounty and a blessing it is to hold the royal gifts of the soul go that they shall be music to some and fragrance to others, and life to all! It would be no unworthy thing to live for, to make the power which we have within us the breath of other men’s joy; to scatter sunshine where only clouds and shadows reign; to fill the atmosphere where earth’s weary toilers must stand with a brightness which they cannot create for themselves, and which they long for, enjoy, and appreciate. (H. W. Beecher.)
To comfort you concerning your faith--
Comforted concerning the faith
1. These Epistles may preeminently be called letters of comfort. There are many streams of consolation which are shallow and apt to run dry. They are good as far as they go and as long as they last. God has filled life for us with consolations--the ministries of nature; many little things that happen every day. The lesser consolations, however, do not supersede the necessity for the greater. After drinking of the former we “thirst again,” “but the latter” spring up into everlasting life.”
2. Does the apostle refer to faith as objective truth, or the affection which embraces the truth? Both. The faith that comforts must not only be true, but must be accepted and become a heart possession. We are comforted concerning the faith--
I. By the persuasion that the faith is true; that it is a real revelation of grace and salvation spoken by God to man.
1. Any doubt on this fundamental point will affect essentially all forms of comfort. Say that the gospel is false or fallacious, or, although historically true, that it is yet largely mythical, and it is bereft of all its consolation. The old words would remain, such as “God hath given us everlasting consolation,” “Comfort one another,” etc.; but a dead tree, although still rooted, casts no shadow, yields no fruit; a well may be deep, and have no water in it. With a sorrow deeper than that of Mary might the Church, and even the world, exclaim in that ease, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.”
2. Are any of you in this sore trouble--intellectually at sea about the gospel? I shall make no attempt to meet your doubts intellectually. Doubts are solved by faith, prayer, Providence, time, love. But it may do no harm, but good, to speak out our own faith (Hebrews 1:1; John 1:1; John 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2, etc.). You may question, but we know whom we have believed; and He will take your souls in trust also, and keep them against that day.
II. By the fact that to the humble and sincere, doubt runs its course, and then subsides and passes away. The experiences of this changeful, troubled life explain the gospel wonderfully to some. The experiences of the heart explain it, reveal the need of it, make it welcome; and then doubting Thomas is found among the rest, exclaiming, as He falls at His Master’s feet, “My Lord and my God.”
III. Inasmuch as it will bear the strain and pressure of life, howsoever heavy. The faith will bear it, although it is borne by persons. What we believe and know enables us to bear and pass through what would otherwise overwhelm us. Human nature, in itself, as the work of God, will do and bear a great deal. Heroic deeds are done and sufferings endured even without Divine help. If it were a matter of stern silent endurance, the old Stoics, Roman soldiers, and the Red Indians could set us an example. But such a state of mind is attained by almost uprooting the finer sensibilities of our nature, by shutting out the future, by putting all our strength into mere obstinate resolution. But that is not moral greatness; for this we must have our nature unabridged, nay, developed and enlarged, made responsive, sensitive, to spiritual things. It is not a question of getting through this life, but of getting through it worthily. Christ comes to elevate and transform all. The Man of Sorrows reproduces Himself in His followers; but though “the sufferings of Christ abound in us,” our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
IV. Because our faith will bear all the burden and strain which come by the enlargement and intense action of the powers of our being. The pain of life which is increased by Christian sensibility will be assuaged by the Christian consolation and borne by the Christian courage. We have tried the plan of “no faith,” and that has failed. The new faith brings new pain, because it draws to us the pain of others; but it brings the promise that “all things shall work together for good,” etc. We have put that to the proof, and, resting upon it, have found it firm. Pain has been shown to have a Divine mission to bless and sanctify us. By the sorrow of the Saviour’s soul all the Church is redeemed; and by the sorrows of individual souls, when they are touched with grace, are those souls purified as they could be in no other way. Only “if we suffer with Him” in some way can we “be glorified together.” Believing this, we are to go on the simple way of duty, whatever may be the difficulty of it, trusting all the while to the sustaining power of faith in Christ. “My grace is sufficient for thee,” etc.
V. In that our faith teaches us that a time and state are coming when there shall be no more pain. “In His presence is fulness of joy.” Conclusion: We must remember that however strong and firm the objective truth may be, and whatever its power to carry us through the straits of life and its adaptation to lift us towards a life to come, it will be and do none of these things if we have not the subjective principle by which we embrace what is true, trust what is strong, and rise to what is high and pure. The gospel, as a practical power and abiding consolation, is in our hearts, or it is nowhere for us. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
That no man should be moved by these afflictions
The perils of suffering
God hath decreed the saints to distress.
As He fore-appointed them to heaven, so He fore-appointed them to heaviness and hardships (1 Thessalonians 3:3). The wilderness is the road to Canaan. Christ went by Bethany--the house of grief, to Jerusalem--the vision of peace. What was said of Christ may be said of a Christian, “Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?” None ever yet went to heaven without conflicts.
I. The motives to quicken the Christian this condition.
1. Affliction will search whether thou art sound or no. Great troubles are great trials; hence afflictions are called temptations (James 1:2). Grace is brought to the proof when it is brought to persecution, as gold when it is brought to the touchstone. The soldier’s knowledge or ignorance, courage or cowardice, will appear when the enemy, strong and subtle, meets him in the field. So a saint comes to the test when he comes to tribulation.
2. God intendeth to sanctify thee, and to make thee better by affliction. He sendeth prosperity to quicken thee to praise, and He sendeth adversity to stir thee up to patience and prayer. He forceth thee, like the ark, to sail in deep waters, that thy soul may mount nearer to the skies. The husbandman throweth his seed into deep furrows, and is glad of a sharp winter because it will thrive the better.
3. Many are the worse for affliction. Though the fire heateth the water and makes it more serviceable, yet it wholly consumeth the wood. The same flail that liberates the corn bruiseth the stalk. Afflictions that better a saint harden a sinner. Ahaz in his distress sinned more against the Lord, and every plague in Egypt increased the plague of Pharaoh’s heart.
4. If godliness be thy business, under the cross thou mayest expect God’s company. The worse the ways and the weather in which thou travellest, the more need of good society. Israel had the rarest manifestations of God when they were in the wilderness. Whoever be neglected, the sick child shall be tended not by the maid, but by the mother herself. God may leave His prospering saints to the guardianship of angels, but His afflicted ones may be sure of His presence and favour both in water and fire (Isaiah 43:8; Isaiah 43:4).
II. The power of religion manifests itself in affliction.
1. It leads the Christian to avoid those sins which an afflicted estate is prone to, such as despising God’s hand, impatience under suffering and its continuance, and envying the condition of those who prosper.
2. It also helps him to exercise those graces which are required and proper in adversity, such as faith, rejoicing in the Lord, and contentedness with his condition. Whatsoever the rod be with which he is scourged, he kisses it. He blesses God taking from him as well as giving to him; and this turned his blows into blessings, the grievous cross on his back into a glorious crown on his head.
III. The divine end in the Christian’s affliction.
1. It is to discover the Christian to himself. Thieves, when endeavouring to break into a house, and are prevented, do this courtesy to the master of the house--they show him the weakest part of his dwelling. Satan, by the troubles he brings on the saints, doth them often this kindness--by his rough waters their leaks are made known to them. To try the truth of grace, God led Israel many years through the wilderness, when He could have carried them a nearer way in a few days to Canaan, but it was to prove them, and to know what was in their heart.
2. It is to purge out some sins from the Christian. A garment is stricken with a staff that the dust may be beaten out. Tribulation comes from tribulus--a flail, because it makes the husk fly off. Joseph spake roughly to his brethren to make them repent of their sin; and so doth God deal severely with His children to make them mournful for their sin; and when once He hath brought them to that, He smileth on them.
3. It is to increase the graces of the Christian. Wisps scour vessels and make them the brighter; the fire purifieth the vessels of gold, and maketh them more meet for the Master’s use. True Christians, like the vine, bear the more fruit for bleeding. Speaking of great afflictions, the Seer of the Apocalypse saith, “Here is the faith and patience of the saints.” Here they are exercised, and here they are increased; for frequent acts of grace strengthen the habits of grace. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
Too long a period of fair weather in the Italian valleys creates such a superabundance of dust that the traveller sighs for a shower. He is smothered, his eyes smart, the grit even grates between his teeth. So prosperity, long continued, breeds a plague of dust even more injurious, for it almost blinds the spirit. A Christian making money fast is just a man in a cloud of dust--it will fill his eyes if he is not careful. A Christian full of worldly care is in the same condition. Afflictions might almost be prayed for if we never had them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The object of afflictions
There is no more precious truth than that uttered by Archbishop Secker, “Afflictions are not a consuming but a refining fire to the godly.” Fitly as Archbishop Trench said, “We sometimes wonder, with regard to some of God’s dealings with His children, that He should cast them again and again into the crucible of trial.” It seems to us as though they were already refined gold. But He sees that in them which we do not see, a further fineness which is possible; and He will not give over till that be obtained. It is just as in a portrait by some cunning artist, which is now drawing near to its completion. Men look at it and count it perfect, and are well nigh impatient that the artist does not now withhold his hand and declare it finished, while he, knowing better, touches and retouches as he returns again and again to his work. And why? Because there floats before him an ideal of possible excellence at which he has not yet arrived, but which will not allow him to rest or be contented till he has embodied it in his work. It is thus with God and some of His dear children. A storm among the Highlands of Scotland often effects great and rapid changes. The huge mountain that slumbers harmlessly in the sunshine with such calm and sullen majesty, is transformed by the tempest into a monster of fury. Its sides are suddenly sheeted with waterfalls, and the ferocious torrents work devastation among the glens and straths that lie in their impetuous course. The trees and shrubs that are but slightly rooted are swept away, and only the firmly grounded survive. So it is when the storm of persecution breaks upon the gospel and its adherents. The new converts, the roots of whose faith have not penetrated so deeply into the soil of truth, are in danger of being disturbed and carried away. Their peril is matter of anxiety to the Christian worker. Hence the apostle sends Timothy and writes this Epistle to the Thessalonians to “confirm and establish them in the faith.” He shows--
I. That suffering is the inevitable lot of God’s people.
1. Suffering is a Divine ordinance. “We are appointed thereunto.” A strange way, one would think, of reconciling people to affliction to tell them they have nothing else to expect. Here lies the triumph of the gospel, that it prescribes such conditions and reconciles men to their acceptance. This it does by the grace it imparts, and the hope it affords.
2. Suffering was the subject of frequent apostolic warning (1 Thessalonians 3:4). Paul was an illustrious example of heroic fortitude (Acts 20:23). It is both wise and kind to forewarn God’s people of coming afflictions that they be not overtaken unprepared. The predictions of the apostle “came to pass.” Their first acquaintance with the gospel was in the midst of persecution and trial. The violent opposition continued, but the warning and exhortations of the apostle were not in vain (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
3. The suffering of God’s people is a cause of ministerial anxiety (1 Thessalonians 3:5). It has been pithily said, “Calamity is man’s true touchstone.” The faithful minister, knowing the perils of suffering, and the awful consequences of apostacy, is anxiously concerned about the faith of his converts. “There are three modes of bearing the ills of life: by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy, which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual” (Colton)
II. That suffering exposes God’s people to the disturbing forces of Satanic temptations. “Lest by some means the tempter have tempted you.”
1. A suggestive designation of Satan. “The Tempter”--what unspeakable vileness and ruin are suggested by that name! All human woe may be traced directly up to him. The greatest champions of Christendom, such as Paul and Luther, had the most vivid sense of the personality, nearness and unceasing counter working of this great adversary of God and man. There is need of sleepless vigilance and prayer.
2. The versatility of Satanic temptations. “Lest by some means.” He may descend suddenly, clothed with terror and burning with wrath, to surprise and terrify into sin. More frequently he appears in the seductive and more dangerous garb of an angel of light, the deceptive phantom of what he once was. Infinite are his methods, but his aim is one--to suggest doubts and impious inferences as to God’s providential dealings of severity, and to produce apostacy from the faith.
III. That the temptations of a suffering state imperil the work of God’s servants. “And our labour be in vain.” In vain as regards the great end of their salvation; they would lapse into their former heathenish state, and lose their reward; and in vain as regards the joy which the apostle anticipated from their ultimate salvation. It is true, no work done for God is absolutely in vain; the worker shall receive his just reward, but it may be in vain with regard to the object. It is bitterly disappointing to see the work that has cost so much, frustrated by temptation. How different might have been the moral history of thousands if they had not yielded to the first fiery trial.
IV. That God’s people may triumph over the greatest suffering. “That no man should be moved.” Drawn away by flattery, or shaken “by these afflictions.” While piety is tried it is also strengthened by suffering. The watchful and faithful soul may use his troubles as aids to a richer experience and firmer consolidation of Christian character. Lessons--
1. To live a godly life involves suffering.
2. A period of suffering is ever attended with powerful temptations.
3. The grace of God is sufficient to sustain and deliver. (G. Barlow.)
The Christian conditions of life
“Man was made for happiness” is the easy formulary concerning the nature and ends of life which seems generally accepted. But if that had been Paul’s view, the text could hardly have been written, nor Christ borne the witness of Matthew 16:24-25; nor the heroes of Hebrews 11:1-40 been pourtrayed. That formula may sound the philosopher’s roadsteads, but is lost in the great sea of life as we launch forth to the depths which have been fathomed only by the life of the Lord. We need only read casually the lives of the great ones pourtrayed in Scripture to see that happiness was just the last thing they were thinking of; for had that been their aim, life must have been to them a dreadful disappointment. Paul at any rate was not afraid to hold forth a widely different rule and end even to young converts.
I. What is the aim of man? What offers him the highest attraction, and puts him under the strongest restraint? To live a life after the image and mind of God, leaving the happiness question alone.
1. This may bring happiness or pain, but such a man has as his end something which transcends happiness and makes him oblivious of pain (Galatians 2:20). Self-love has forgotten itself in the love of Him whose love is the intensest passion that can possess the spirit, and fills it with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But the joy springs out of the passion, the passion is not cherished as the way to the joy.
2. We shall never arrive at a true Christian philosophy of life until we purge out the leaven of the last century philosophy, and consider the aim of man’s life as something more than a search for happiness. To be is greater than to be anything; to live is greater than to possess or enjoy. Being will include both happiness and unhappiness as long as the world and the Spirit are at war, but it will not feel itself nearer its end in the one than in the other. To live God-like will alone satisfy it; and that is sharing the burdens and sufferings of Christ.
3. There is nothing to frighten a man in the vision of struggles and suffering for a worthy end. Nay, there is that which should attract him. All the nobler spirits will be more fired by the end than daunted by the suffering. A high end which God smiles upon and pursues, is what inspires men with indomitable courage, and exalted joy. You feel it in the smallest things. Your days of exultation are when you are toiling earnestly and bearing bravely for the sake of some noble end, on which you can ask God’s blessing. Pain which you would feel keenly in lazier moods seems hardly to touch you. The most glorious moment of Jacob’s life was that night of agonizing wrestling, though it left him a halting man and spoilt for much of happiness. It is life in its full beat and swing, not the satisfaction of desire which is bliss.
II. The appointment of affliction as the means.
1. The ordinance of affliction, “I am not come to send peace but a sword.” The first fruit of the advent of the Saviour to the world, to a soul, is to deepen the sorrow of life, and to increase the pressure of its burden. It was no part of Christ’s plan to makes a fool’s paradise of the world. He came to deepen its experience in every way: to make it a more solemn thing to live, by unveiling life’s issues; a more awful thing to sin, by unveiling God’s holiness; a more hopeful and, therefore, more blessed thing to suffer, by declaring “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” Easy had it been for Him to restore the beauty and joy of Eden; but something larger He had set before Him to realize. The world’s chief sufferers have been the world’s chief blessed ones in time and in eternity.
2. The author of the ordinance, God Himself. There is something terrible in the idea of the Epicurean God, sitting calmly on high with no eye to pity, no hand to save. Even the Jew, with his sublime conception of the God of Sinai, shrank from this. Isaiah 53:1-12 tells a nobler tale. Dark as the ordinance of sorrow may seem, He ordained it to Himself, before He ordained it to you. If the law be “through much tribulation ye shall inherit the kingdom,” if the symbol of the new life be the Cross, the God from whom the law issues Himself won the kingdom by tribulation, and consecrated the Cross as its emblem by His own death. No soldier murmurs if his captain but leads him through the deadly peril. We are not afraid or ashamed to suffer in the flesh, when the chief sufferer is incarnate God.
3. The reason of the ordinance. There are a thousand subsidiary reasons, but the supreme one is that we may have fellowship with God. Man made happy on easy terms might have held just such fellowship with God as a light-hearted, innocent child can hold with one who has borne the burden of life’s battle. He feels a passing interest in the child’s prattle but keeps himself for the friend who has fought or suffered at his side. And God wants the fellowship of friends, not the prattle of children in eternity; friends whose powers have been exercised in the sternest of conflicts, and proved that they hate evil as He hates it, and love good as He loves it, by being willing to resist the one and to clasp the other even unto death. The suffering He ordains is precisely the fellowship of His suffering. Perfect through sufferings is the Divine perfectness whereby the perfected may converse with Him forever.
4. The end of the ordinance: Supreme and perfect bliss. The hunters after happiness miss it utterly. Those who lift the Cross as their symbol of life, and bear it till they change it for a crown, find in bearing it a blessedness which is kindred with the blessedness of God. It is a deep truth that none but those who suffer keenly can enjoy keenly. “So you who are troubled rest with us” is Christ’s promise to those who dare to look boldly into this mystery of pain. Rest where the warrior can recall the incidents of the battle and reap the fruit of the victory--where the purified spirit shall shine resplendent--where rest shall be untiring service without disappointment or pain. (Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
The persecution of the early church
To what extent did the early Christians suffer persecution? Much has been said of the tolerant spirit of the Roman government, inclined to let all religions sleep peacefully under the shadow of its wings. But it is one thing to tolerate existing religions, another to sanction a new one, and that, too, not seeking to insinuate itself privately, but openly professing as its object the conversion of the world. Probably there has never been a civilized country in which such an attempt at proselytism would not have been at first met by persecution. Every page of the Acts is a picture of similar persecutions; and more remarkable than any part of it is the narrative which St. Paul gives of his own sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33), and which, amid many other reflections, suggests the thought, how small a part of his life has been preserved. From the state of Christianity in the time of Pliny or Taeitus, we can scarcely form an idea of its first difficulties. Everywhere it had to encounter the fierce spirit of fanaticism, wrought up in the Jew to its highest pitch, in the pagan just needing to be awakened. The Jews, the false brethren, the heretics, the heathen, were in league more or less openly at one time or other for its destruction. All ages which have witnessed a revival of religious feeling, have witnessed also the outbreak of religious passions; the pure light of the one becomes the spark by which the other is kindled. Reasons of state sometimes create a faint and distant suspicion of the new faith; the feelings of the mass rise to overwhelm it. The Roman government may be said to have observed in general the same line respecting the first preachers of the gospel, as would be observed in modern times: that is to say, of matters of faith and opinion, as such, they hardly took account, except in so far as they endangered the safety of the government, or led to breaches of the public peace. It seemed idle to them to dispute about questions of the Jewish law in Roman courts of justice; but they were not the less prepared to call to account those by whose supposed agency a whole city was in an uproar. Hence, when the really peaceful character of the gospel was seen, the persecutions gradually ceased and revived only at a later period, when Christianity became a political power. Allowing for the difference of times and seasons, the feelings of the Roman governors were not altogether unlike those with which the followers of John Wesley, in the last century, might have been regarded by the magistrates of an English town. And, making still greater allowance for the malignity and depth of the passions by which men were agitated as the old religions were breaking up, a parallel not less just might be drawn also between the feelings of the multitude. There was in both cases a kind of sympathy by which the lower class were attracted towards the new teachers. Natural feeling suggested that these men had come for their good: they were grateful for the love shown of them, and for the ministration to their temporal wants. There was a time (Acts 2:47; Acts 4:21) when the first believers were in favour with all the people; but at the preaching of Stephen the scene changes and the deep irreconcilable hostility of the two principles is beginning to be felt; “it is not peace, but a sword”; not “I am come to fulfil the law,” but “not one stone shall be left upon another.” The moment this was clearly perceived, not only would the farsighted jealousy of the chief priests and rulers be alarmed at the preaching of the apostles, but the very instincts of the multitude itself would rise at them. More than anything that we have witnessed in modern times of religious intolerance, would be the feeling against those who sought to relax the bond of circumcision as enemies to their country, religion and God. But another aspect of the new religion served to bring home these feelings even yet more nearly--the description of the family, as our Lord foretold, the father was against the son, etc. A new power had arisen in the world, which seemed to cut across and dissever natural affections. Consider what is implied in the words “of believing women not a few”; what animosities of parents and brethren, etc. An unknown tie, closer than that of kindred, drew away the individuals of a family, and joined them to an external society. It was not only that they were members of another church, or attendants on a separate worship. The difference went beyond. In the daily intercourse of life, at every meal, the unbelieving brother or sister was conscious of the presence of the unclean. It was an injury not readily to be forgotten, or forgiven in its authors, than which in this world none could be greater. The fanatic priest, led on by every personal and religious motive; the man of the world, caring for none of those things, but not the less resenting the intrusion on the peace of his home; the craftsman, fearing for his gains; the accursed multitude, knowing not the law, but irritated at the very notion of this mysterious society of such real though hidden strength--would all work together towards the overthrow of those who seemed to them to be turning upside down the political, religious and social order of the world. (Prof. Jowett.)
The need of the apostolic warning
An example of this was seen in the case of Demas, who was allured by the love of this world, and forsook Paul in his sufferings at Rome, and departed to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10). The devil is often more to he feared when he fawns than when he roars. The man of God at Judah overcame Satan at Bethel, but was ensnared by him under the oak tree (1 Kings 13:14). David vanquished Satan in the battlefield (1 Samuel 17:48), but was vanquished by him in the cool of the evening on the housetop (2 Samuel 11:2). (Bp. Wordsworth.)
Appointed to affliction
Church history nowhere gives a more striking illustration of these words, and of the power which lies in them to strengthen and comfort, than in the story of the banishment of some five thousand bishops and presbyters, with their adherents, into the desert, by Hunneric, during the African persecutions of the sixth century. They were torn from their homes, and shut up amid squalor and hunger in a small prison, and afterwards driven, with every species of maltreatment, over the burning sands. Yet the song of that suffering pilgrim band had its constant refrain, “Such glory have all God’s saints.” (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 3:4
When we were with you we told you
The minister to warn his people of future suffering
Ministers should warn young converts of the difficulties of the Christian. They must be taught that a suffering hour will come, and they must expect it. Otherwise there will be inevitable disappointment, and unbelief will be engendered in other matters and perhaps apostasy.
II. When Christians have received these warnings they should forearm themselves.
1. The greatest calamities may be mitigated by forethought and prudence.
2. There are promises of Divine grace of which the Christian should possess himself before they are wanted.
3. Otherwise, in spite of the strongest caution and the most efficient provision, Christians will sink under their trials.
III. The heavier the trial the greater the reward. For our light affliction we shall have an eternal weight of glory. (W. Burditt, M. A.)
We all know in a general way that this word means affliction, sorrow, anguish; but it is quite worth our while to know how it means this. It is derived from the Latin tribulum which was the threshing instrument or harrow, whereby the Roman husbandman separated the corn from the husks; and tribulatio was the act of this separation. But some Latin writer of the Christian Church appropriated the word and image for setting forth of a higher truth; and sorrow, distress, and adversity being the appointed means for the separating in men of whatever in them was light, trivial, and poor, for the solid and the true--their chaff from their wheat--he therefore called these sorrows and trials “tribulations,” threshings, that is, of the inner spiritual man, without which there could be no fitting him for the heavenly garner. (Abp. Trench.)
The benefit of tribulation
Thus God schooleth and nurtureth His people, that so through many tribulations they may enter to their rest. Frankincense, when it is put into the fire, giveth the greater perfume; spice, if it be pounded, smelleth the sweeter; the earth, when it is torn up with the plough, becometh more fruitful; the seed in the ground, after frost and snow and winter storms, springeth the ranker; the nigher the vine is pruned to the stock, the greater grape it yieldeth; the grape, when it is most pressed and beaten, maketh the sweetest wine; fine gold is the better, when it is cast in the fire; rough stones with hewing are squared and made fit for building; cloth is rent and cut, that it may be made a garment; linen is bucketed, and washed, and wrung, and beaten, and is the fairer. (Bp. Jewel.)
How to deal with troubles
Wesley was one day walking along a road with a Christian man who was relating his troubles, and at the same time saying he did not know what he should do. As his companion was expressing his doubts they happened to pass a stone fence over which a cow was looking. “Do you know,” asked Wesley, “why that cow looks over that wall?” “No,” replied the friend in trouble. I will tell you, answered Wesley, “because she cannot look through it.” And that is what you must do with your troubles, look over and above them. (W. Baxendale.)
God’s purpose in troubles
Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things. Far up the mountain sides lies a block of granite, and says to itself “How happy am I in my serenity--above the winds, above the trees, almost above the flight of birds! Here I rest age after age, and nothing disturbs me!” Yet, what is it? It is only a bare block of granite, jutting out of the cliff, and its happiness is the happiness of death. By and by comes the miner, and with strong and repeated strokes he drills a hole in its top, and the rock says, “What does this mean?” Then the black powder is poured in, and with a blast that makes the mountain echo the block is blown asunder, and goes crashing down the valley. “All!” it exclaims as it falls, “why this rending?” Then some saws to fashion it; and humbled now and willing to be nothing, it is borne away from the mountain and conveyed to the city. Now it is chiselled and polished till, at length, finished in beauty it is raised high in the air to be the top stone on some monument of the country’s glory. (H. W. Beecher.)
Unmoved by trial
I have seen a tree proudly crowning the summit of a naked rock, and there, with its roots spread out over the bare stone, and sent down into every cranny in search of food, it stood securely moored to the stormy crag. I have wondered how it could grow up there, starved on the bare, naked rock, and how it had survived the rough nursing of many a winter blast. Yet, like some neglected, ragged child, who from early childhood has been familiar with adversities, it has lived and grown and held itself erect on its weather-beaten crag when the pride of the valley has bent to the storm; like men who, scorning to yield, bravely nail their colours to the mast, there it maintains its defiant position, and keeps its green flag waving on nature’s rugged battlements. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
How is it, brother? I do not ask you whether you like the cup which you are now drinking; but look back twenty years. What has made you so versatile? What has made you so patient? What has made you so broad, so deep, so rich? God put pickaxes into you, though you did not like it. He dug wells of salvation in you. He took you in His strong hand, and shook you by His north wind, and rolled you in His snows, and fed you with the coarsest food, and clothed you in the coarsest raiment, and beat you as a flail beats grain till the straw is gone, and the wheat is left. And you are what you are by the grace of God’s providence, many of you. By fire, by anvil strokes, by the hammer that breaks the flinty rock, God played miner, and blasted you out of the rock, and then He played stamper and crushed you, and then He played smelter and melted you, and now you are gold free from the rock, by the grace of God’s severity to you. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christian progress a cause of tribulation
Crossing the ocean, I used to hang over the side of the Java to watch the stroke of the wave against the ship’s cut water. I noticed, when it was foggy, and we were making only seven or eight knots an hour, there was but little stir in the water; but when, in fair weather, we went fourteen knots an hour, the ocean tossed in front of the prow and boiled on either side. So, just in proportion as a Christian makes headway in Christian enterprise, in that ratio will there be commotion and excited resistance in the waters. If nothing has been said against you, if you have never been assaulted, if everybody seems pleased with you, you are simply making little or no progress; you are water logged, and, instead of mastering the wave, the wave masters you. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 3:5
For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith
Its nature. “When I could no longer forbear.”
1. As a moral quality and exercise it must be distinguished from personal anxiety. This is everywhere forbidden: “Take no thought,” etc., “Be careful for nothing.” And it is easy to see why it is prohibited. It is selfish, and is provocative of those vices which are detrimental to the Christian character--irritation, unbelief, fear, and general unfitness for duty. But Christian solicitude is for others, is unselfish, self-forgetful, benevolent, and inspires a good many of those virtues which are inseparable from an exemplary Christian life--sympathy, self-sacrifice, helpfulness.
2. In certain cases it warrantably assumes an intense form. When a relative or a friend is in perilous circumstances through travel, occupation, etc., it is legitimate to feel anxious about him. This we generally do. But how much keener should be our anxiety when his soul is in danger, either through being unawakened, or through being exposed like the Thessalonians to temptation? Yet how insensible most are to the latter duty. A father, terribly solicitous about his son’s temporal advancement, never bestows a thought about his eternal interests. When a daughter is away in some sphere of fashion or frivolity the mother’s care about her health, prospects of marriage, etc., will be carried to the point of distress; while the nature of the moral atmosphere which the daughter breathes will hardly enter the mother’s mind. How different with Paul. As the context shows he had the deepest sympathy with them in their physical dangers, but his supreme concern is about their “faith.”
II. Its method: “I sent.” This was all he could do. And this is often all we can do. We cannot always be with our friends to give them the benefit of our counsel, sympathy, help and protection; but we can always send--
1. Messages to them. How seldom are letters employed as means of usefulness! What an immense amount of correspondence many of us get through in a year, and yet how little of it is utilized for God. How trivial much of it is even with those who need that it should be serious and practical. Yet no means could be more effective for conveying admonition, encouragement, and advice. The spoken word passes to be often forgotten; the written word may remain to be pondered. And then there are those who are too diffident to speak, who have no difficulty in writing.
2. Prayers to God. We may be sure of the acceptableness of our solicitude when expressed to Him. He only can help in times of spiritual danger. Our anxiety as expressed to them is only helpful as it drives them to God; then equally helpful is that prayerful solicitude which brings God near to them.
III. Its purpose.
1. Deliverance from spiritual peril.
2. Maintenance of spiritual work.
The temptations of one hour may undo all the efforts of parents, friends, pastors and teachers for years. How often has a timely word or message arrested a downward career and saved a soul. (J. W. Burn.)
Satan more prominent in the New Testament than in the Old
Very remarkable is the prominence which Satan assumes in the New Testament, compared with the manner in which he is kept in the background in the Old. There, after the first appearance of the adversary in paradise, he is withdrawn for a long while from the scene; nay, there is but a glimpse of him, a passing indication here and there of such a spiritual head of the kingdom of evil, through the whole earlier economy--as in Job 1:1-22; Job 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-2; 1 Chronicles 21:1; he is only referred to twice in the Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon 2:24; Sirach 21:27). This may partly be explained on the principle that where lights are brightest, shadows are darkest; it needed the highest revelation of good to show us the deepest depth of evil. But, no doubt in that childhood of the human race, men were not ripe for this knowledge. For as many as took it in earnest it would have been too dreadful thus to know of one who had been a prince of light. Those, therefore, who are under a Divine education are not allowed to understand anything very distinctly of Satan, till with the spiritual eye it is given to them to behold him as lightning fall from heaven; then the Scripture speaks of him without reserve. Notice the analogy in 1 John 2:13-14. To some the doctrine of the tempter is a stumbling block; but it is not by Scriptural arguments alone that it is supported. There is a dark, mysterious element in man’s life and history, which nothing else can explain. All who shrink from looking down into the abysmal depths of man’s fall, seem to count that much will have been gained thereby; although it may be pertinently asked, What is the profit of getting rid of the devil, so long as the devilish remains? of explaining away an evil one, so long as the evil ones who remain are so many? What profit, indeed? Assuredly this doctrine of an evil spirit, tempting, seducing, deceiving, prompting to rebellion, so far from casting a deeper gloom on the mysterious destinies of humanity, is full of consolation, and lights up with a gleam of hope spots which would seem utterly dark without it. One might well despair of oneself, having no choice but to believe that all the strange suggestions of evil which have risen up before one’s own heart had been born there; one might well despair of one’s kind, having no choice but to believe that all its hideous sins and monstrous crimes had been self-conceived and born in its own bosom. But there is hope, if “an enemy hath done this;” if, however, the soil in which all these wicked thoughts and works have sprung up has been the heart of man, yet the seed from which they sprung had been sown there by the hand of another. And who will venture to deny this devilish, as distinguished from the animal in man? None, certainly, who knows aught of the dread possibilities of sin lurking in his own bosom, who has studied with any true insight the moral history of the world. In what way else explain that men not merely depart from God, but that they defy Him? What else will account for delight in the contemplation or infliction of pain, for strange inventions of wickedness, above all, of cruelty and lust--“lust hard by hate”? What else will account for evil chosen for its own sake, and for the fierce joy men so often find in the violation of law, this violation being itself the attraction? The mystery is as inexplicable as it is dreadful, so long as man will know nothing of a spiritual world beneath him as well as above him; but it is only too easy to understand, so soon as we recognize man’s evil as not altogether his own, but detect behind his transgression an earlier transgressor--one who fell, not as men fall, for man’s fall was broken by the very flesh which invited it; but who fell as only spirits can fall, from the height of heaven to the depth of hell; fell, never to rise again; for he was not deceived, was not tempted as was Adam; but himself chose the evil with the clearest intuition that it was evil, forsook the good with the clearest intuition that it was good: whose sin, therefore, in its essence, was the sin against the Holy Ghost, and as such never to be forgiven. All is explicable when we recognize the existence of such a spirit; who being lost without hope of redemption himself, seeks to work the same loss in other of God’s creatures, and counts it a small triumph to have made a man bestial, unless he can make him devilish as well. (Abp. Trench.)
The subtlety of the Tempter
An enemy, before he besiegeth a city, surroundeth it at a distance to see where the wall is weakest, best to be battered, lowest, easiest to be scaled; ditch narrowest to be bridged, shallowest to be waded over; what place, if not regularly fortified, where he may approach with least danger, and assault with most advantage. So Satan walketh about surveying all the powers of our souls, where he may most probably lay his temptations,--as whether our understandings are easier corrupted with error, or our fancies with levity, or our wills with frowardness, or our affections with excess. (J. Spencer.)
Degrees in temptation
Satan seldom comes to Christians with great temptations, or with a temptation to commit a great sin. You bring a green log and a candle together, and they are very safe neighbours; but bring a few shavings, and set them alight, and then bring a few small sticks and let them take fire, and the log be in the midst of them, and you will soon get rid of your log. And so it is with little sins. You will be startled with the idea of committing a great sin; and so the devil brings you a little temptation, and leaves you to indulge yourself. “There is no great harm in this; no great peril in that;” and so by these little chips we are first easily lighted up, and at last the green log is burned. (J. Newton.)
Seduction of temptation
Of the Lurleyberg on the Rhine, with the whirlpool and deceitful eddies near it, where many a raft and fishing boat has gone down, many wild legends are related. Tradition makes the rock the dwelling place of a Syren, who, by her sweet songs, enchanted all who heard her. The mariners of the Rhine, heedless of the dangers which beset them at this point, when once they heard the seducing song of the water nymph, altogether abandoned their charge to the course of the current, and frequently perished in the whirlpool, or were wrecked against the rock. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Where temptation assails
There is a deep truth contained in the fabled story of old, where a mother, wishing to render her son invulnerable, plunged him into the Styx, but forgot to dip in his heel, by which she held him. We are baptized in the blood and fire of sorrow, that temptation may make us invulnerable; but let us remember that trials will assail our most vulnerable part, be it the head, or heart, or heel. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Temptation comes unawares
Many horses fall at the bottom of a hill because the driver thinks the danger past and the need to hold the reins with a firm grip less pressing. So it is often with us when we are not specially tempted to overt sin, we are more in danger through slothful ease. “There is no devil,” says Ralph Erskine, “so bad as no devil.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sinful hearts invite temptation
No one would make overtures to a bolted door or a dead wall. It is some face at the window that invites proffer. (H. W. Beecher.)
Resistance to temptation possible
It is the devil’s part to suggest: ours not to consent. As oft as we resist him, so often we overcome him; as often as we overcome him, so often we bring joy to the angels and glory to God; who opposeth us that we may contend; and assisteth us that we may conquer. (St. Bernard.)
Constantius (father of Constantine the Great) once published an edict requiring all Christians in his dominions to abjure their religion on pain of losing all their civil honours and offices. Some thereupon, like Demas and Diotrephes, forsook Christ and embraced the present world, but others stood firm, being willing to count all things but loss for their faith and for the love of their Master. Constantius then, having discovered who the real Christians were, restored them to their places, and banished the hypocrites, saying: “They can never be true to their emperor who are false to their Maker.”
Temptation without warning
One summer the earth heaved like a tumultuous sea, and Ischia and its capital were in ruins and death; and a few weeks later the ocean rolled its force over Eastern islands, and lands, and houses, and men disappeared beneath its waves. In this way, oftentimes without warning, does temptation sweep on the soul. And its assault comes when night, is over, and our eyes are shut to duty, to God, and to good. Reason will not daunt the tempter, for he makes the reason his captive. Imagination and memory fly to his side; and even conscience assumes but a proud neutrality. Oh, that is the hour of humbling; we were, we are not! Heaven looks on in pity, and Satan exults over a sinner who had repented and has gone back. There is no influence, no possibility of escape for man unless in the interposed power of his God. The power that is in us, is it asleep often? Do we often fall? Oh! wake up that gift, stir it into energy; beat down the environing defences of your basest foe; and remember Him of whom you are to walk worthy, and that true and holy fellowship of the saints in which you are called to live. (The Quiver.)
1 Thessalonians 3:6
But now when Timotheus came from you unto us
News that gladdens
With what anxiety a father entrusts his son with a commission to visit an estate in a distant land and to investigate its affairs, which are threatened for the time being.
He is in suspense until he receives intelligence of the safe arrival of his loved messenger, and of the prosperity of the estate. But when his son returns and assures him that everything is prosperous, the father’s satisfaction is complete. “As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Such, in a higher sense, was the experience of Paul here.
I. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of faith maintained.
1. Their faith in the great truths of the gospel was maintained. The revelation of Divine truth is the basis of all faith. This truth as it affected their salvation had been successfully declared to them. They comprehended its meaning, felt its force, embraced it, were transformed by it. Amid the shock of persecution, and the insidious whisperings of false teachers, they held fast to “the form of sound words.”
2. Their faith as a principle of active spiritual life was maintained. True faith is not simply a belief, but a life: not merely an assent of the mind to truth, but the impartation of a spiritual force. It forms a new era in the experience and history of the soul. It unites us to the Living God, and expands to our view, however dimly, the vast outline of the life of God as the pattern of our own.
II. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of love manifested. “Brought us good tidings of your charity.” Love is the fruit of faith, both in its inward experience and outward manifestation. Faith and love are indissolubly combined (1 John 3:23). The first exercise of love is towards God; and then towards all whom God loves. Such love is impartial and universal--manifested towards all in whom we discern the image of God, whatever their country or condition. Where faith and love reign there is a living, healthy, and prosperous Church.
III. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of continued personal regard.
1. The apostle was fondly remembered. “Ye have good remembrance of us always.” There are some scenes of nature which, beheld but for a moment, never fade from the memory; there are some faces we can never forget; and there are some individuals whose influence remains with us through life. The Thessalonians had good reason to remember Paul. The minister who first led us to the Cross, will ever have the preeminence in our affection, and the choicest spot in our memory. A high appreciation of the Christian minister is one of the evidences of possessing genuine faith and love.
2. They were as solicitous as the apostle for a renewal of Christian fellowship. “Desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you.” There is no bond so tender, and strong, as that existing between the preacher and his converts. He must needs love the souls he has been instrumental in saving, and who are his glory and his joy. The intercourse between such is of the purest and highest kind. Never was there a more loving heart than that of the Apostle Paul. The Thessalonians warmly reciprocated that love; and longed to renew the fellowship by which they had so richly profited.
1. That church has the best reputation where faith is maintained and love manifested.
2. The Christian minister is cheered by the affection and stability of his converts. (G. Barlow.)
Faith and charity
Your faith is the guide, but your love is the way that leads to God. (Ignatius.)
1 Thessalonians 3:7-10
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction
The steadfastness of believers a source of ministerial satisfaction
The scholar finds his happiness in intellectual exercises, and in accumulating knowledge; the politician in the excitement of debate, and the triumph of principles; the scientist in testing and harmonizing the laws of nature; the merchant in his gains; and the minister in the increase of converts to the truth, and in their consistency and perseverance.
I. Their steadfastness was a source of comfort.
1. The apostle was comforted in the midst of personal suffering (Acts 18:6). So great was his trouble that the Lord thought it needful to encourage him (Acts 18:9-10). The bitterness of his afflictions at this time was sweetened by hearing of the constancy of his Thessalonian converts, The faithlessness of the people is a grief to the true minister now: but at last the horror will be theirs.
2. The apostle was comforted concerning their faith. The Church is in danger, and cause of deep anxiety, when its faith wavers.
II. Their steadfastness intensified the pleasure of living. The good news thrilled his soul with new life. For now, whatever else befall--now, in the face of Jewish fury and Gentile scorn--now, amid infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses and deaths oft--now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord. The relation of the minister to his people is so close and vital that they have it in their power to make his life happy or miserable. There is a method of destroying life without its becoming utterly extinct. To lessen the cheerful flow of life, and depress the spirits of the man of God, is a species of murder: to starve him into submission by studied neglect and privation, is diabolical. The ministerial life and energy of even an apostle depended on the sympathy, faith, and steadfastness of the brethren (John 3:4).
III. Their steadfastness was productive of grateful joy.
1. This joy was copious and sincere: “For the joy wherewith we joy before our God.” The transitions of the emotions are rapid. From the midst of the apostle’s grief a fountain of joy breaks forth. This joy filled his soul even in the presence of God. It was a pure, sincere, undissembled, overflowing joy, such as God could approve.
2. This joy arose from a disinterested love: “For your sakes.” True love gives us an interest in the safety and happiness of others. He who possesses this never lacks joy: if it flows not on his own behalf, it does on behalf of others. Bernard has said, “Of all the motions and affections of the soul, love is the only one we may reciprocate with God: to re-love Him is our happiness: woe, if we answer Him not in some measure of re-loving affection.”
3. This joy was expressed in fervent thanksgiving: “What thanks can we render,” etc. His gratitude was so great that he could hardly give it expression. The grateful heart prizes blessings that seem to others of small value.
IV. Their steadfastness excited an earnest longing to impart additional good.
1. The apostle assiduously prayed for the opportunity of a personal interview: “Night and day,” etc. The longer the absence the more eager the desire. The good news of their constancy increased the desire. A love like his could be satisfied only with personal spiritual intercourse. It was not enough simply to write. Voice and manner have a charm of their own. Reading, praying, etc., will be unavailing if we despise prophesying--the oral declaration of the truth.
2. The apostle sought this interview to supply what was lacking in their faith. None are so perfect in faith as not to be susceptible of improvement. Faith is based on knowledge, and as knowledge is capable of indefinite extension, so faith may be continually increased. The less distinctly the great subjects of faith are understood, the more defective is faith. We all have to cry, “Lord, increase our faith.”
1. The true minister cannot be indifferent to the spiritual state of his people.
2. The fidelity and perseverance of believers is an inspiration and an unspeakable joy to the anxious worker.
3. Faith and practice powerfully react upon each other. (G. Barlow.)
The faith of the people the comfort of the minister
It is natural for labourers to look for wages: the minister’s best wages is the faith of his people. The apostle’s work was laborious and discouraging, but his comfort was the growing faith of the Churches. On this point he was more anxious than about his own safety (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
I. The apostle’s affliction.
1. The abuse of the world and the devil. This abuse is--
2. Non-success in many Christian efforts. The apostles “essayed to go” hither and thither: but the Spirit forbade them. In other places they were rejected; in others all their labour seemed to be in vain. There is no greater grief to a minister than to be hindered, rejected or fruitless.
3. The aboundings of heresy and wickedness. It is impossible to describe the anguish of Lot, who “vexed his righteous soul” on account of the iniquity of Sodom, and equally impossible to describe the pain of God’s servants, to whom the honour of Jesus is dear, to hear His name degraded, His faith frittered away, and the work of His Spirit melted down into a little cold water.
4. Personal suffering, whether of a bodily or spiritual character.
II. His solace. “Your faith.” The minister is comforted by the knowledge--
1. That faith is wrought in his hearers; that his preaching is owned of God to the working of faith in the soul. This faith is not an intellectual assent to his teaching--that would bring him a little glory, no doubt. What he wants is that faith which works not admiration but transformation.
2. That his hearers are living the life of faith; when he witnesses the love which faith works and the purity that faith imparts. A faith that does not make a man love holiness and hate sin will never make the heart fit for Divine inhabitation.
3. That his hearers are growing in faith--in its possession and exercise--in the strength and stature of faith; growing whether in the “child,” “young man,” or “father”; whether in the “blade, ear, or full corn in the ear.”
4. That his hearers have the full assurance of faith.
5. That the stability of their faith is evincing its reality: “not moved with afflictions.”
6. That their faith strengthens his own. (J. Irons.)
Saved sinners a minister’s joy
I do not know anything that can make a man forget his pain and weariness like grasping the hand of a sinner saved. I speak here from experience, for yesterday evening, when I was thinking of this subject, I was myself somewhat dull through pain and weakness, and as God would have it, I took up the last Report of the Baptist Missionary Society, and as I glanced over it I saw my own name. It seems that our missionary in San Domingo has had a discouraging year, but it was lighted up with one most pleasing incident. A man had come down from the interior of Hayti to ask for baptism on accepting Christ as his Saviour. The missionary asked how he came to know anything about it. In reply he told him that he had fallen in with a sermon translated into the French language, which was preached by Mr. Spurgeon. Oh, friends, I was dull no longer! I had meat to eat. Had an angel stood in the study, I could not have felt more delighted with his visit than I did when I read of a sinner saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord--
The spiritual relation between the apostle and the Thessalonians
I. His well-being depended on them.
1. Paul’s distress while he was at Corinth is represented as a species of death, as he says elsewhere, “I die daily.” But from this, as it were, he revived. He felt himself raised again to the full enthusiasm and activity of life by learning of their faithful adherence to Christ. When Jacob had the good news brought to him that Joseph was alive, and governor of Egypt, “his spirit revived.” His years of mourning had been a kind of death to him, and the tidings delivered him from it. In the same way was Paul quickened in the midst of all his sorrows. As Newman says, “He felt all his neighbours to be existing in himself.” We may further say that he existed in them--his life was bound up in theirs.
2. This identity of interest and aim can only rightly manifest itself in those who are one in Christ. Human character in its nobler elements can be developed alone in sympathy with others, in the willingness to share in each others joys, sorrows, failures, triumphs. Isolation of spirit is spiritual death. It is with hearts as with the embers of the hearth--“Do you not see glimmering half red embers, if laid together, get into the brightest white glow” (Carlyle.)
3. What a striking contrast to the apostle was such an one as Goethe, the apostle of mere worldly culture, the picture of a man living in “the miserable dream of keeping the course of his inward development free from all foreign interference,” reluctant to devote himself and his inner life to anything, or any one outside of himself; consumed with the desire, as he expressed it, “to raise the pyramid of my existence, the base of which is already laid, as high as possible in the air; that absorbing every other desire, and scarcely ever quitting me.” There is no more revolting picture to the Christian than that. We can never rise to God as long as we try to do so in the way of selfish isolation. We can only find ourselves when we first lose ourselves in others. It is thus that Christianity extends itself. “Till each man finds his own in all men’s good, and all men work in noble brotherhood.”
II. Their steadfastness revived the apostle. What is implied in it?
1. That individually and collectively the members of the Church are “in the Lord,” abiding in Him both in faith and practice.
2. That while in the Lord they are exposed to the danger of wavering. The language seems military (1 Corinthians 16:13). Christ’s Church, each section of it, is exposed to assault. The army of the living God is subject to having its ranks broken in upon. This is the aim of the tempter, of whom the apostle had just been speaking. Hence the exhortation to steadfast adherence to God and His truth, for “by faith ye stand”; steadfast adherence, too, to one another, that so they may present the strength of a united phalanx to the enemy, and at last rejoice in a day of triumph. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The steadfastness of the Church the life of the ministry
I. The nature of this steadfastness. It comprehends--
1. Their steadfastness in the faith of the gospel. This faith is not merely the assent of the mind to its truth, but also the dependence of the heart on its salva tion. The latter depends indeed on the former; for if the word of the gospel be not received as true, the salvation of the gospel cannot be depended on as sure. Steadfastness, then, comprises a firm belief in the truth of revelation, and a firm reliance on the Saviour revealed; believing with the heart unto righteousness, having the heart established with grace.
2. Their steadfastness in the profession of the gospel. The gospel not only reveals truths to be believed, and a Saviour to be depended on, but presents claims to be recognized. It not only invites the confidence of the heart, but the confession of the mouth. It requires an avowed separation from the world and sin, and a professed subjection to the authority of Christ. Two separate interests divide the world--the kingdoms of Satan and of Christ. Christ has fully declared His determination to allow of no compromise. Many at different times have gone over to the enemy again. To stand fast is to maintain our profession, and not to deny the Saviour’s name and desert His cause. In the early Church there was much persecution and apostasy. Now there is not much persecution, but temptation; and probably more have been induced to desert by the smiles of the world than were ever driven by its frowns.
3. Their steadfastness in the practice of the gospel. The gospel not only requires belief and profession, but action. Christianity is a practical religion. If our faith is genuine and our confession sincere, they will lead to obedience. The practice of the gospel includes--
(a) Natural; and the practice of the gospel consists in the discharge of duties owing to parents, children, etc.
(b) Civil. Such as relate to governors, subjects, masters, etc. These are comprehended in the golden rule.
(c) Religious--our duty to the Church.
4. Their steadfastness in the hope of the gospel. The religion of Christ is preeminently a religion of hope (Titus 2:12; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 6:17).
II. Its effect. That of the text is only one out of many. The most important benefit would arise to themselves, but it would not terminate in themselves. It had a happy effect on their connections, especially on their spiritual instructors.
1. It increased their joy--“Now we live,” we are happy. Who that seriously reflects on the nature and design of the ministry can avoid the conclusion that the prosperity of the people is the happiness of the minister (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
2. It promoted their diligence: “Now we live,” are alive in our work, and can apply ourselves with energy. When his people’s faith is firm, their profession uniform, their prayers torrent, their practice consistent, etc., the minister goes forth to his work like “a giant refreshed.”
3. It contributed to their usefulness. The early history of the Church proves this (Acts 2:41). The greatest obstacle to religion is the inconsistency of its professors, and their uniform consistency its most powerful auxiliary. Ministers preach to the Church; but the Church preaches to the world.
III. The obligation of Christians to maintain it.
1. The authority of God enjoins it: “If ye love Me keep My commandments.”
2. Their own interest is involved in it: “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.”
3. The good of others requires it: “Look not every man on his own things.”
4. A due regard for ministers demands it: They are to be esteemed very highly in love for their works sake.
5. Experience of Divine mercy and hope of eternal life add strength to all other obligations. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
We live, if ye standfast in the Lord
Here the purest zeal for the honour of his Master, and the most generous love to the souls of men, are happily united, and expressed in the native language of a warm and upright heart: the purest zeal and the most generous love, for no tincture of selfishness appears in either; if Christ is glorified, if men are saved, Paul obtains his utmost wish; his happiness is independent of everything else; he enjoys all that in his own estimation is worthy to be accounted life, if his spiritual children stand fast in the Lord. (R. Walker.)
Zealous for the souls of others
So, in a later time, wrote Samuel Rutherford, to his parishioners at An woth: “I long exceedingly to know ii the oft-spoken watch between you and Christ holdeth, and if ye follow on to know the Lord. My day thoughts and night thoughts are of yon. While you sleep I am afraid for your souls that they be off the Rock.”
1. Are you standing fast, by the assurance, of understanding, in the doctrines of the gospel?
2. There is danger of our not standing fast in regard to the adherence of our hearts to the doctrines of the gospel. That they be clearly apprehended by the mind is important, not in order to their becoming matters of idle talk or curious speculation, but in order to the sanctification of the heart, and the conduct of the life.
3. Endeavour to find out by another test whether you are standing fast in Christ. The test I mean is proposed by St. John, in his first epistle: “He that saith he abideth in Him (that is, in the Lord Jesus Christ), ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” I demand, then, whether you are taking Jesus Christ for an example, and following His steps? I proceed to point out some of the dangers which threaten your religious steadfastness.
5. Moreover, spiritual pride is the stumbling block of many a soul. Lastly: I charge you to bear constantly in mind, that it is by the help of the Holy Spirit, and by that alone, that any one stands fast in the Lord. (J. N. Pearson.)
The steadfastness of Christians the happiness of ministers
There is a most beautiful harmony and dependence in the works of God; so there must be in civil relations; so there should be between minister and people.
I. The nature of Christian steadfastness.
1. It is distinct from an obstinate perverseness--the pursuit of a given course without reason, and against reasons when they favour a change. The Christian keeps his mind open to conviction even when strongly persuaded, and is ever ready to alter his conduct when truth commands.
2. It is consistent with advancement. Spiritual progress is the aim of every Christian. Having tasted the pleasures of Divine knowledge and grace he desires more. To stand still is not to stand fast (Philippians 3:10).
3. It is identical with constancy; firmness and immovableness in spite of outward circumstances. Opposition we are warned to expect, but we are to be firm to the end.
II. In what respects Christians are to be steadfast.
1. In our attachments.
2. In our zeal. Earnestness is commend able in worldly things, much more in religion. Here coldness is criminal. Stead fastness demands uniformity--not hot today and cold tomorrow.
3. In our Christian profession. Some make no public avowal of Christ; others make it but contradict it in their lives.
III. The motives which should lead to steadfastness. “Now we live if ye stand fast.” It--
1. Confirms the truth and power of the gospel we preach. Every steadfast Christian is an evidence of it in circles which ministers cannot reach.
2. Indicates our call to the work. Usefulness is the best proof of Divine ordination.
3. Warrants of hope of meeting you in glory. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The pastor’s life wrapped up with his people’s steadfastness
Ministers who are really sent of God greatly rejoice in the spiritual prosperity of their people. If they see God’s word prosper they prosper. On the other hand it is like death to them if God does not bless His word. They get depressed, and say, “Who hath believed our report.”
I. Some are not in the Lord at all.
1. A solid mass of infidelity and godlessness hems as in. Our heart is heavy because the city shuts its eyes to the light.
2. Our greater sorrow is that there are many who hear the gospel and are not in the Lord. Some of you contribute to God’s work, and are in many points excellent, but you lack the one thing needful, and after having joined with God’s people in outward acts of devotion are in danger of being driven from His presence forever.
3. If there be a deadening influence about the thought that some amongst us are not converted, think of what the effect must be upon a minister’s mind who has laboured long and seen no fruit. There may be instances in which a man has been faithful but not successful. Then the soil breaks the ploughshare, and the weary ox is ready to faint. Are you working for Jesus? Then you know what it is to feel the shadow of death when you do not win a soul.
II. There are some who profess to be in Christ but are certainly not standing fast. This is a Marah--a bitter well.
1. There are many over whom we rejoice who, nevertheless, apostatize. They run well, and begin in the Spirit, but by and by attempt to be made perfect in the flesh. Oh, foolish ones, who hath bewitched you? We can never be sufficiently grateful to our Lord for allowing a Judas to be among the twelve, for thus He bore Himself what has been to His servants the most crushing of griefs.
2. Many do not believe in such a way that we could remove their names from the Church roll; but they decline in grace. Too many grow worldly, and it is especially the case when they grow wealthy.
3. Others whom we look upon as likely to become leaders and helpers are diverted from the work of God. We do not now expect to see them at a prayer meeting, etc., for they are careless about the salvation of souls. They were once full of zeal, but are now neither cold nor hot.
4. Some are always shifting their doctrinal positions.
5. Some are not steadfast in their service of Christ.
6. We stand fast in the Lord if the Lord keeps you true in the matter of holy conversation. I call that holiness which minds its work at home, which makes a kind father, an obedient child, an honest tradesman, etc. But when men turn round and fling in our teeth, “These are your Christians,” then down goes our spirit, and we wish we could die.
7. Unless men are steadfast the Church is weakened. The strength of any Church must be the aggregate of the strength of all its members; therefore, if you have a set of weak brethren you multiply the weakness of each by the number of the membership. What a hospital is the result!
8. The minister is disappointed of his reasonable expectations when men do not stand fast. He is like a farmer who sees the seed grow, but just when it is about to yield him a crop he spies out black smut, and his wheat is blighted. He may well weep that it went so far and yet failed so utterly. Judge ye mothers what it is to nurse your children till they are near manhood, and then to see them sink into the grave.
III. There are some who are in the Lord and stand fast in the Lord, and these are our life.
1. Because their holy life fills us with living confidence.
2. By stimulating us to greater exertion. We are able to speak many things which could never have been spoken, and to point to such and say, “See what God hath done.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The people’s stability the minister’s comfort
I. What is that stability which all Christians must attain. When any persons first receive the gospel so as to yield themselves up to its influence, they are said to “be in Christ;” when they make advances in grace they are said to “walk in Christ;” and when they are established in a firm adherence of the truth, they are said, as in the text, “to stand fast in the Lord.” This is that stability which is required of us.
1. In the faith of the gospel.
2. In the profession of it.
3. In the practice of it. That all may be stirred up to seek this stability, we observe:
II. Why their attainment of it lies so near to the heart of every faithful minister. A minister stands related to his people as a pastor to his flock, over which he is to watch, and of which he must give a just account; and his solicitude about them, instead of terminating when they are brought into the fold, may be said then more properly to commence. He will be anxious about their attainment of stability in the Divine life.
1. Because the honour of God is deeply interested in it.
2. Because their salvation altogether depends upon it.
3. Because the great ends of the ministry are answered by it.
We conclude with a few words--
1. Of grateful acknowledgment.
2. Of affectionate warning.
3. Of joyful encouragement. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Inspiring Christian steadfastness
An image of Cybele was carried round in one of her usual cars on one occasion, in the reign of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and accompanied by a great multitude of people. All fell on their knees; but Symphorianus, a young man of high family, conceived that his conscience would not allow him to participate in this rite, and most probably, on being taken to task for it, took occasion to speak of the vanity of idolatry. He was instantly seized, and conducted before the governor, Heraclius, a man of consular dignity, as a disturber of the public worship, and a seditious citizen. The governor said to him, “You are a Christian, I suppose. As far as I can judge, you must have escaped our notice; for there are but a few followers of this sect here.” He answered, “I am a Christian; I pray to the true God, who rules in heaven, but I cannot pray to idols; nay, if I were permitted, I would dash them to atoms, on my own responsibility.” The governor, on this avowal, declared him guilty of a double crime, one crime against the religion, and another against the laws of the state; and, as neither threats nor promises could induce Symphorianus to abjure his faith, he was sentenced to be beheaded. As they led him to execution, his mother cried out to him, “My son, my son, keep the living God in thy heart; we cannot fear death, which leads so certainly to life: up, my son I let thy heart be up, and look to Him who rules on high. Thy life is not taken from thee today, but thou art conducted to a better. By a blessed exchange, my son, thou wilt pass this day to the life of heaven.” (Neander.)
For what thanks can we render to God again for you for all the joy--
The pastor’s thankful joy
I. Its nature.
1. It was a joy for their sakes. It implies a love towards them. We do not joy for the sake of those to whom we are indifferent.
2. It was a joy before God. Not a carnal joy, but a holy joy, which he could carry to the mercy seat in thanksgiving and praise.
3. An undant, not a scanty joy--“all the joy.”
II. Its character and causes. It is to be traced to the fact--
1. That God had owned His preaching among them (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13).
2. That the Thessalonians adorned the gospel by the practical exhibition of its power in their hearts and lives. They had received the word as the Word of God. They had not listened from the mere love of novelty, nor from being caught by the apostle’s eloquence. They had not been as the men of Ezekiel’s day (Ezekiel 33:30-32). No; in Thessalonica we read of a work of faith, go. They were “ensamples to all that believe,” etc., etc. Here was more than a name to live, more than the form of godliness--power, life, growth, fruitfulness. Here, then, is a distinct cause of ministerial joy; not only sinners added, but believers growing. This every faithful pastor covets. He would not have a congregation like any of those mentioned in Revelation. He desires that when the heavenly Bishop inspects the flock He may have nothing--not even “a few things” against them. No tampering with false doctrine, declension from the faith, barrenness in good works, etc.; but a spiritual people, a praying, loving, fruitful, unselfish people. Over such he can “joy.”
3. The affection of the Thessalonians towards himself. Not that Paul’s great object was to centre the affection of his converts on himself. “We preach not ourselves,” etc. A minister preaches himself when he employs enticing words of man’s wisdom to attract a congregation and to get a name; when he would attach his congregation as partizans to his own person and preaching; when he uses flattering words as a cloke of covetousness, when, to keep his seats full and his friends round him, he accommodates his preaching to their taste. But Paul preached not to make Paulines but Christians, not to enrich himself, but to enrich them with “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Yet he did not repel the affection of his people when called forth in lawful measure toward himself. Paul loved the pastoral tie. He loved his people, and rejoiced that his people loved him. (Canon Miller.)
Ministerial gratitude and prayer
I. Observe now thankful the apostle was (1 Thessalonians 3:9). When we are most cheerful we should be most thankful. What we rejoice in we should give thanks for. This is to joy before the Lord, to spiritualize our joy. Paul speaketh as if he could not tell how to express his thankfulness to God, or his delight and rejoicing for the sake of the believing Thessalonians; but he was careful God should not lose the glory of that comfort he received in the welfare of his converted friends. His heart was enlarged with love to them, and with thanksgiving to God; he was willing to express the one and the other as well as he could. As to thankfulness to God, this especially is very imperfect in the present state; but when we come to heaven we shall do this blessed work perfectly.
II. Observe how prayerful the apostle was (1 Thessalonians 3:10). He prayed for the Thessalonians night and day; that is--evening and morning, or very frequently, in the midst of the business of the day, or between the slumbers of the night, lifting up his heart to God in supplication for them. Thus we should pray alway. And Paul’s prayer was fervent prayer: he prayed exceedingly--was fervent in his utterances. When we are most thankful we should be most prayerful; for those we give thanks for have need to be prayed for. Those we most rejoice in, and that are our greatest comforts, must be our constant care in this world of temptation and imperfection. There was something still lacking in the faith of the Thessalonians Paul desired might be perfected, and to see their face in order thereunto. And is it not true that the best of men have something wanting in their faith, either in the matter of it, there being some mysteries or doctrines not sufficiently apprehended by them, or yet as to the clearness and certainty of their faith, there being some remaining darknesses or doubtings as to the effects and operations of it, these being not so conspicuous and perfect as they should be? The ministry of the Word and the ordinances of the Sanctuary are exceedingly helpful in such a truly important matter; they are, therefore, to be desired and used for “the perfecting of the saints.” (D. Mayo.)
Thankfulness for success
Telford stated to a friend, only a few months before his death, that for some time previous to the opening of the Menai Suspension Bridge his anxiety was so great that he could scarcely sleep, and that a continuance of that condition must have very soon completely undermined his health. We are not, therefore, surprised to learn that when his friends rushed to congratulate him on the result of the first day’s experiment, which decisively proved the strength and solidity of the bridge, they should have found the engineer on his knees engaged in prayer. A vast load had been taken off his mind; the perilous enterprise of the day had been accomplished without loss of life; and his spontaneous act was thankfulness. (S. Smiles, LL. D.)
Joy in the progress of the gospel
A pious Armenian, calling on Mr. Hamlin, the missionary at Constantinople, remarked that he was astonished to see how the people are waking up to the truth; how, even among the most uncultivated, some were seeking after it as for hid treasure. “Yes,” said he, “it is going forward; it will triumph; but alas! I shall not live to see it. Alas, that I am born an age too soon!” “But,” said Mr. Hamlin, “do you remember what our Saviour said, ‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth’? You may not live to see the truth triumphant in this empire, but should you reach the kingdom of heaven your joy over your whole nation redeemed will be infinitely greater than it could be on earth.” He seemed surprised at this thought; but after examining the various passages to which I referred him, he seemed to be perfectly enraptured at the thought that our interest in the Church of Christ is something that death cannot touch, and which, instead of ceasing with this life, will only be increased and perfected in another. “Oh, fool, and slow of heart,” said he, “to read the gospel so many times without perceiving this glorious truth.” If this be so, no matter to what age a Christian is born, nor when he dies. (W. Baxendale.)
1 Thessalonians 3:10
Night and day praying exceedingly
Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians
1. It was incessant; his aspiration by day, the breathing of his heart in the stillness of the night.
2. Intensely earnest. Above ordinary measure. It was a wrestling with his covenant God that he might see their face again. Satan had hindered this; hence the importunity.
3. Prevalent. It was heard.
II. Its occasion. He desired this boon not for the mere gratification of any feeling of friendship in him or them; but because there were what he calls “the lacking measures of your faith.”
1. As to doctrine, their knowledge was defective. They were entertaining not only imperfect but erroneous views, e.g. about the coming of the Lord, about the state of those who had fallen asleep, and the shares these would have in the glories of the second advent. In matters of this kind the apostolic churches generally had less defined views than those to whom have come “the long results of time.”
2. As to practice, there was much that called for correction. The apostolic churches, like the mission churches of our own day, were in the midst of a social corruption of which we can barely form even a conception. There were especially four classes of evils prevailing:
III. Its purpose--to “perfect that which is lacking.” The word “perfect” means to readjust, to restore. It is used in surgical language, of the setting of a bone or joint, and of repairing nets, and also of refitting and strengthening of ships.
1. In each of these senses we have fitting illustrations of Paul’s purpose. His aim and that of all ministers is that Christians may be--
2. Thus filling up that which is lacking in faith on earth, Christ’s Church will at last pass into heaven where there will be nothing lacking in glory. John Howe has said, “We read indeed of certain afterings of faith (as it may be significantly rendered) ‘things lacking’ we render it; but there will be no afterings of glory. What is perfect admits of no increase, it is already full; and why should not a full glory satisfy? It is fulness of joy.” (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
“Why,” say you, “should a minister need encouraging? We have plenty of troubles all the week long, with our losses here, and crosses there, we want encouragements, but surely ministers do not.” Ah! if you want to have a refutation of that idea you had better come into this pulpit, and occupy it a little time. If you would like to exchange, I would truly say that so far as the pleasure of my office is concerned, apart from the spiritual joy my Lord gives me, I would change places with a crossing sweeper, or a man who breaks stones on the road. Let a man carry out the office of a Christian minister aright, and he will never have any rest. “God help,” says Richard Baxter, “the man who thinks the minister’s an easy life.” Why, he works not only all day, but in his sleep you will find him weeping for his congregation, starting in his sleep with his eyes filled with tears, as if he had the weight of his congregation’s sins resting on his heart, and could not bear the load, I would not be that man in the ministry who does not feel himself so fearfully responsible, that if he could escape from the ministry by going with Jonah into the depths of the sea, he would cheerfully do it; for if a minister is what he should be, there is such a weight of solemn concern, such sound of trembling in his ears, that he would choose any profession or any work, however arduous, sooner than the preacher’s post. “If the watchman warn them not they shall perish, but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hands.” To sit down and spell over the question--“Am I free of his blood?” is terrible. I have sometimes thought I must have a day or two of rest, but I frankly confess that rest is very little rest to me, for I think I hear the cries of perishing souls, the wailings of spirits going down to hell, who chide me thus: “Preacher, can you rest? Minister, can you be silent? Ambassador of Jesus can you cast aside the robes of your office? Up! and to your work again.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you
A comprehensive apostolic prayer
This prayer recognizes the essential oneness of the Father and the Son.
1. Christ is invoked equally with the Father. The word “Himself” stands foremost in the sentence and refers to both persons, as if the writer said, “May our God and Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself direct our way unto you.” It should be also noted that the verb “direct,” belonging to both persons, is in the singular number. This fact was urged as an important point by Athanasius in the great Arian controversy. As the Son partakes equally with the Father in the honour of invocation, so also in excellency of nature. Divine properties are also ascribed to the Son in overruling by His providence the affairs of men. “What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”
2. It is the privilege of the believer to realize a personal interest in the Father and in the Son. By an act of appropriating faith we can say, God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Similar phrases occur no less than twenty-six times in these two Epistles. Blessed confidence! What a wealth of tenderness, satisfying assurance, and joyous triumph is involved in my God! my Saviour!
II. This is a prayer for providential guidance in securing a much desired interview. “Direct our way unto you.” Hitherto the way had been blocked up. The brethren there were as eager to welcome Paul as he was to be present; but Satan had hindered. Nevertheless, let God give the signal and all impediments would vanish. God should be recognized in the simplest affairs of life. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;” and only those journeys are prosperous wherein God is pilot. There are crises in life when everything depends on being guided in the right way--e.g., in selecting a school or college, entering on the religious life, commencing business, contemplating marriage, or in change of residence. In these and all other matters acknowledge God, and He shall direct thy paths. Our prayer for guidance must ever be in submission to the Divine will. The apostle’s prayer was not answered immediately; five years elapsed before he again visited Macedonia. That path is safest and best in which God’s finger points. Let His call be our loadstar: His hand the cloud, to move or pause as He directs.
III. This is a prayer for the bestowal of an increased measure of the highest Christian affection.
1. Christian love is progressive and mutual. “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another.” Love is the badge of the genuine Christian. He cannot have too much of it--the more the better. It grows with all other graces, and causes them to grow. There is no limit to its expansion but our finiteness. But love must be mutual “one toward another.” “For this is the message,” says St. John, “that ye heard from the beginning, that ye should love one another;” and, “Seeing ye have purified your souls see that ye love one another,” urges St. Peter.
2. Christian love is unselfish. “And toward all men.” The old law declared “Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.” And the New Testament reiterates the truth, that charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned is the fulfilling of the royal law.
3. Here we have Christian love practically exemplified. “Even as we do towards you.” Paul and his co-labourers had given unmistakable evidence of their love (1 Thessalonians 2:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5). Love is the soul of self-sacrifice. Ministers should exemplify in their own lives what they prescribe to others.
IV. This is a prayer for confirmation in a state of unblamable personal purity.
1. There is no stability in Christian graces apart from love. “To the end he may stablish your hearts.” If it were possible to possess every other grace but love, it would be like a varied summer landscape, beautiful but transient. Above all other graces we are exhorted to “put on charity which is the bond of perfectness”--a girdle which adorns and binds together all the rest. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the infallible test and evidence of stability.
2. An unblamable holiness is the legitimate and necessary outcome of love. “To the end He may stablish,” etc. Paul prays for an increase of love in order to the attainment of a higher personal purity. All defects in obedience issue from a defect in love. Our love of God makes us solicitous to know and obey Him, and fearful to offend Him. Our love of man makes us careful to preserve his honour, life and possessions, and in no way to impair his happiness. The whole law is love. There is no duty to which it does not incline; no sin from which it does not restrain.
3. Holiness screens the soul from Divine censure at the second advent (1 Thessalonians 3:10). He who remains steadfast shall be blameless then. That holiness alone is genuine which will bear the scrutiny of Omniscience.
1. Recognize God in every event of life.
2. To attain purity pray for love.
3. Act in all things so as to secure the Divine approval. (G. Barlow.)
Paul’s ejaculatory prayer
We have here an instance of a marked characteristic of Paul’s Epistles--the tendency which the course of the argument ever has to break forth into prayer. In this respect they bear a striking resemblance to David’s Psalms.
I. To whom this prayer is addressed.
1. It is quite evident that the apostle regarded Christ as standing in the same relation to prayer as God the Father. The prayer is addressed to both, implying equality of power and unity of will, which imply a still higher unity--even unity of essence. While, then, our Lord is distinguished from the Father in personality, He is one with Him in Godhead, and therefore is He rightly addressed in the language of prayer.
2. “Himself” is emphatic, suggesting a contrast. Human agency had been frustrated. Satan had (1 Thessalonians 2:18) so far prevailed. But now Paul turns to God with the confidence of filial reverence and love, and prays that He may remove obstacles and prosper his desire. His prayer was in the spirit of Jeremiah 10:23, and Romans 1:9-10.
II. What he prayed for.
1. That they might increase, and by so increasing abound in love. To have this is to abound in true wealth which no outward reverses can lessen, which increases the more it is expended, which is always useful and can never be exhausted. It has prominence assigned it here, for it is the essence of Christian life, the bond of perfectness, the soul of the graces. As all beauty is cold and lifeless unless there be a soul speaking and breathing through it, so all the elements of moral beauty are worthless without love.
2. Love may be regarded as the end of Christian striving, for it brings men nearest heaven; but it is represented here as a means (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
Prayer about a journey
In these profoundly interesting words we have one of the most unfeigned and earnest prayers of the apostle. He desired to be directly instrumental in the farther spiritual benefit of the Thessalonians; and the only way to do so while at a distance was by prayer for them, together with his writing or sending to them.
I. The hearers of prayer. Prayer is made to God, even the Father and our Father, and also to Christ, even our Lord Jesus Christ; therefore Jesus Christ our Lord is God, even as God our Father is God. Prayer is to be offered to God as our Father (Matthew 6:9): so Jesus taught His disciples, and so the Spirit prompts them to pray (Romans 8:15). And prayer is not only to be offered up to Christ as our Lord and Saviour, but in the name of Christ as the Lord our Righteousness.
II. The things prayed for. He prays that he might have a prosperous journey to them, by the will of God. The taking of a journey to this or that place, one would think, is a matter depending so much upon a man’s own will, and lies so much in his own power, that Paul needed not by prayer to go to God about it; but the apostle knew that we depend upon God in all our motions and actions as well as for the continuance of life and being--that Divine Providence orders all our affairs, and that it is owing thereto if we prosper therein--that God our Father doth direct and order His children whither they shall go, and what they shall do--that our Lord Jesus Christ in a particular manner directs the motions of His faithful ministers, “those stars which He holdeth in His right hand.” He prayeth, too, for the prosperity of the Thessalonians, whether he should see them or not; and there are two things he desired for them, which we should desire for ourselves and our friends, namely--that they might “increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men;” and that they might be established unblamable in holiness. This last-mentioned spiritual benefit is the effect of increasing and abounding love. Our desire should therefore be--to have our hearts established in holiness; for then we shall be found blameless at the last advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will surely come, and come in His glory; and when He cometh, His saints will come with Him. And then the excellency, as well as the necessity of pure and perfect holiness, will appear, because without such a state no hearts shall be established at that day, nor shall any one be unblamable, or avoid everlasting condemnation. (R. Fergusson.)
Prayer to Christ
At the very moment of his conversion Saul of Tarsus surrendered himself by a prayer to Christ as the lawful Lord of his being. “Lord,” he cried, “what wilt Thou have me to do?” And when afterwards in the Temple our Lord bade St. Paul “Make haste and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem,” we find the apostle unfolding to Jesus his secret thoughts, fears, regrets, confessions; laying them out before Him, and waiting for an answer from Him (Acts 22:19-20). Indeed, St. Paul constantly uses language which shows that he habitually thought of Jesus as of Divine Providence in a human form, watching over, befriending, consoling, guiding with infinite foresight and power, but also with the tenderness of human sympathy. In this sense Jesus is placed on a level with the Father in these, St. Paul’s two earliest Epistles (text and 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17), in one instance as directing the movements of the apostle’s life, in the other as building up the inward life of Christians. In other devotional expressions the name of Jesus stands alone (Philippians 2:19; 1 Timothy 1:12). Is not this the natural language of a soul which is constantly engaged in communion with Jesus, whether it be the communion of praise or the communion of prayer? Jesus is to Paul, not a deceased teacher or philanthropist, who has simply done his great work and then has left it as a legacy to the world; He is God, ever living and ever present, the Giver of temporal and spiritual blessings, the Guide and Friend of man in his outward and inward life. (Canon Liddon.)
Direction of the way and increase in love
I. Paul’s great personal desire.
1. It was evidently more than a natural transcient longing such as would arise in any mind on the remembrance of dear friends who had been left, it was a fixed strong desire. “We are away from you for a time, in presence, not in heart. I endeavoured to see your face with great desire, but Satan hindered. I therefore sent Timothy--my dearest and best fellow labourer, and the tidings he has brought has comforted me. But this is not enough. May God direct my way unto you.” The inferences from this are--
2. The religious rule he puts it under; the subordination of it to the will of God. He seems to say, “There is nothing more that I can do: Satan seems to hold the keys of the city, and he will not let me in if he can help it. People would advise me to give it up. But no, I hold a strange key, that has opened many a door for me, and perhaps it may fit the lock of that city gate. It is called the key of prayer, and it never rusts with me, for it never rests. I use it by night as well as day. Even while I thus write, I use it. Now God direct my way.” The teaching is, have your human desire, hold it against all hostility and disappointment; but have it in subjection to the higher Will which knows all the circumstances of which we can only know a part. Says an old writer, “Let God be our Pilot if we mean to make a good voyage of it.” Let our hand be on the stern, our eye on the star. Let our course as the mariners’ be guided by the heavens.
II. Paul’s great desire for the Church.
1. This desire is not dependent on the fulfilment of the other. He was aware that unless he had an express Divine assurance that the former was not to be calculated upon with certainty. If he is permitted to see them he will supply, by God’s help, what is lacking in their faith, and out of that will spring a fuller love. But if he is not allowed to see them, the Lord could do without his agency.
2. The love here mentioned is discriminated, but it is one thing. Love to God is one thing, with differentiations suited to the character of the individuals. Love in us--
The helplessness of man’s self-guidance
A merchant, though he owns the ship, and hath stored it with goods, yet, because he hath no skill in the art of navigation, he suffereth the pilot to guide it. Certainly we shall shipwreck ourselves unless we give ourselves up to be guided by the Spirit of God according to His will. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Just as if a master, who had given his scholar charge to follow wheresoever he might lead, when he sees him forestalling, and desiring to learn all things of himself, should permit him to go utterly astray; and when he had proved him incompetent to acquire the knowledge, should thereupon at length introduce to him what he himself has to teach: so God also commanded man in the beginning to trace Him by the idea which the creation gives; but since they would not, He, after showing by the experiment that they are not sufficient for themselves, conducts them again unto Him by another way. (Chrysostom.)
The right and the wrong way of seeking God’s guidance
The Israelites usually asked council of God by the Ephod, the Greeks by their Oracles, the Persians by their Magi, the Egyptians by the Hierophante, the Indians by their Gymnosophistae, the ancient Gauls and Britains by their Druids, the Romans by their Augurs or Soothsayers. It was not lawful to propose any matter of moment in the Senate before their wizards had made observations from the sky. That which they did impiously and superstitiously, we ought to do in another sense--religiously, conscionably, i.e., not to embark ourselves into any action of great importance before we have observed from heaven, not the flight of birds, not the houses of planets, or their aspects or conjunctions, but the countenance of God, whether it shineth on our enterprises or not, whether He approves of our designs or not. (J. Spencer.)
Guidance honestly sought
I believe that wherever guidance is honestly and simply sought it is certainly given. As to our discernment of it I believe it depends upon the measure in which we are walking in the light. One indulged sin may so cloud the sky that it spreads a mist, so that to see what God is doing is impossible. But neither the casting of lots, the opening of the Bible at a venture, nor the sudden impression of a text, nor freedom in prayer over a matter, nor a dream, furnishes any reliable direction. The Lord rather opens and shuts, throws down the walls of difficulty, or hedges the way with thorns, for those who confidingly seek His guidance by prayer. They know that their concerns are in His hands, and fear to run before He sends, or to delay when He directs an advance. (J. Newton.)
God honoured by seeking His guidance
There is nothing so small but that we may honour God by asking His guidance of it, or insult Him by taking it into our own hands. (J. Ruskin.)
God’s guidance to be sought by prayer
As the sails of a ship carry it into the harbour, so prayer carries us to the throne and bosom of God. But as the sails cannot of themselves speed the progress of the vessel, unless filled with the favourable breeze, so the Holy Spirit must breathe upon our hearts, or our prayers will be motionless and lifeless. (A. Toplady, M. A.)
Divine guidance guaranteed
Do you feel that you have lost your way in life? Then God Himself will show you your way. Are you utterly helpless, worn out, body and soul? Then God’s eternal love is ready and willing to help and revive you. Are you wearied with doubts and terrors? Then God’s eternal light is ready to show you your way, and God’s eternal peace to give you peace. Do you feel yourself full of sins and faults? Then take heart; for God’s unchangeable will is to take away those sins and purge you from those faults. (G. Kingsley, M. A.)
The mysteriousness and methods of God’s guidance
In the daily events of our life we mistake the Divine for the human. You may cross a street, and not know the reason why, and in that very crossing you may be unconsciously obeying a Divine suggestion. You may hold over the letter box a letter, and suddenly you may say, “I’ll not send it by this post,” and your not sending it may occasion you a blessing that you never thought of. You cannot account for these things. You say, “I thought just at the last moment I would not do so;” but that is a fool’s explanation of life. I rather believe that God’s angels are overhead, or just by our side, and that we do things by Divine impulse without always knowing what we are really doing. You say, “Yes, but don’t let us be superstitious.” I answer, I am more afraid of people losing veneration than I am afraid of their becoming superstitious; and it is a poor life that does not begin in veneration and continue in worship to the end. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love
The effect of love on universal holiness
The grace which is most generally spoken of in the Holy Scriptures as establishing the souls of men is faith.
But there is a sense in which love also establishes the heart; hence the apostle prays that God would make the Thessalonian Christians to abound in love.
I. The influence of love on universal holiness. Love is an extremely powerful principle in the heart of every one that is truly born of God: it is the great wheel which sets the whole machine in motion, and gives a vital energy to every part.
1. It rectifies all the powers of the soul.
2. It enters into every action of the life.
3. It prepares the soul for heavenly communications.
II. The attention due to it under this particular consideration. Love, for its own sake, should be cultivated to the uttermost; but when we consider its vast influence both on our present and eternal welfare, we should strive for it with all our might.
1. Let us seek to abound in it.
2. Let us intreat God to work it in us.
3. Let us be stirred up to this especially from the consideration before us--the Lord Jesus is shortly coming with all His glorified saints to judge the world.
1. How shall we know whether our love increases? By the difficulties it surmounts, the sacrifices it makes, the victories it gains.
2. What shall we do to get an increase in it? Nothing but love will beget love; nor will anything but a sense of God’s love to us prevail to create in us any real love toward our fellow creatures. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
I. The nature of Christian love.
II. The source of Christian love.
1. God gives it susceptibility.
2. God maintains it in the heart.
III. The object of Christian love.
1. The whole Christian Church.
2. The whole family of man.
IV. The degree of Christian love.
V. The effects of Christian love.
1. They are blessed to each other.
2. They are blessed to the Church.
3. They are blessed at the coming of the Lord.
The abounding of charity
This is the first of St. Paul’s formal prayers. Note:
I. The object to whom it is presented.
1. Our Lord is expressly addressed: not as the Mediator only, by whom petitions are made acceptable, but as Himself, the Hearer and Answerer of prayer. Here the Saviour is asked first for a temporal and lower gift, for the prosperous direction of the apostle’s course and therefore the highest blessing that man can receive.
2. Our Lord is invoked in the unity of the Father, for “God Himself our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,” two persons, are yet one in the verb “direct.” The very grammar expresses their unsearchable Oneness not only in counsel and act, but in nature and dignity.
3. Here at the outset there is more than a latent reference to the mediatorial Trinity. Who is that Lord who shall stablish the saints before God? It is the Holy Ghost, in the unity of the Father and the Son, but also in His own administrative function as having our holiness in charge.
II. The prayer itself.
1. Paul’s first invocation is for charity, that gift of God and grace in man which always has the preeminence. It is the ruling emotion of the regenerate which, assured by its very life of the love of God, goes back directly to Him in devotion, and indirectly in deeds of charity to man. In love, as in an element, the apostle prays that they may grow.
(a) “Increase and abound” might be interpreted as a compound expression including all that is possible to the heart’s capacity. But more closely examined the former signifies the growth of the soul in the sphere of charity, and the latter its aboundings in outward manifestation. Elsewhere love is regarded as growing in us; here, we grow in love, which, like faith, is not only a grace within but an element around the soul. “Increase in love” means that we may become more and more enlarged in heart as our love is enlarged, growing with its growth. The other term makes the sentiment more intense, and asks that the evidence of our increase may day by day overflow. Not, however, to man only. In the next chapter (1 Thessalonians 3:9), when the apostle speaks of love to our fellow Christians as “taught of God,” he calls it “philadelphia,” a branch of charity never separable from that other love that belongs to God; so here it is regarded as springing from the large effusion of the love of God.
(b) Paul presents his own example as at once a standard, guide, and incentive. He felt himself to be expanding in the habit and exercise of that love which “pufieth not up,” but “edifieth.” This is the first instance of a practice of his with which we soon become familiar--the commendation of his own example. Nowhere is his love more vividly exhibited than here. ‘The collective strength of the previous expressions present to us a perfect description of self-forgetting charity. It begins in 1 Thessalonians 3:5. There is more than human sympathy here. Having had “much forgiven,” the apostle “loved much.” But while we are pondering the exhibition, we hear his intercession diverting us from himself: “the Lord make you,” etc.
2. The connection between this abounding love and unblamable holiness is one of the most important topics in experimental theology.
(a) The holiness of perfect love is the permanent character of the saved. Love abideth; and without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Holiness is the consummation of all that religion has to accomplish, and love is the law of heaven as well as of earth. Faith will cease by finding its object; and hope will never be conscious of an object waited for.
(b) This establishment implies the end of probation. Probation vanishes to the individual in death; but to the Church, and man’s history generally, only at the coming of Christ. Not till then, but assuredly then, all that belongs to the warfare, suspense and growing victory of religion shall cease. Rest in God shall be the law of heaven; and that rest shall be movement in an orbit around the throne which shall never be purturbed. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
There is a reflex influence attending acts of obedience to God which goes immediately to advance the doers still further in the ways of godliness. All holy and charitable works are replete with seeds of blessing for the Christian’s own soul. In the text the grace which is exercised in the actings of obedience becomes a means of still further advancement. The reaction of Christian love is progression in holiness, whether to the individual or the Church. The history of missions furnishes no ordinary proofs of this.
I. The nature of that love in which St. Paul desired his brethren to abound.
1. Its spirituality of intention. This is inferred from its declared origin, “The Lord.” Carnal minds have their charity, which regards men as body and mind, and, therefore, when it has consulted their physical happiness and intellectual cultivation it has reached its limit. Devout but unenlightened minds have their charity, but it seeks only to win men from vice to forms of godliness. But the charity that is born of God will act in correspondence with the mind of God, who has not failed to provide for physical happiness, mental improvement, and moral amelioration, but only as a consequence of the restoration of the soul to union with Himself. His sacrifice of His Son--“the Just for the unjust”--was to this end, “to bring them to God.” In harmony with this will be the intention of His people’s love. It was so in Paul’s day. Its care for man was a care for man’s soul. And so now Christian missions, while they compensate the physical miseries, mental debasement, and moral perversion of men by humanizing influences, lifting the savage into civilization, it looks upon all this as subordinate to the conversion of the heart to God.
2. Its unrestrictedness of attachment. It suffers no limitation. It leads God’s people to care not only for their brethren, but all mankind. The earliest disciples went everywhere preaching the Word. The Thessalonians were no less active; and besides doing mission work themselves, they succoured other missionaries. Would that this love had never grown cold! But first came dissention, then unhallowed speculation, and afterward superstition. And when superstition had been removed formality supervened. And so at this late era we are but beginning again the evangelization of the world which began in apostolic times.
3. Its progressiveness of operation. Let it live and be in healthy action, and that action will be one of advancing power. This the apostle intimates not only by his prayer, but by instancing his own example. St. Paul was a bright exemplification of the charity that never faileth. His personal intercourse with the Thessalonians had been brief--but how, notwithstanding his labours and trials, he loved them. So it was with his affection for other Churches, it deepened and widened at the same time. And may we not point to many of his followers struggling with discomforts, afflicted with the spectacle of myriads wholly given to idolatry, frequently standing alone as witnesses for the truth, growing only more devoted to the work and attached to their charge. Yea, and when compelled to return to a more congenial climate they labour in the interests of their distant converts, and long to return. And so, according to their ability, is the love of the Churches who support missions.
II. The sanctifying result which St. Paul anticipated from that increase of love which he invoked upon his brethren. Consider this as illustrated in the history of missions.
1. In relation to our individual piety.
2. In relation to the piety of the Church which is the aggregate of the holiness of its individual members. As they severally thrive the whole body is strengthened, and society around receives a corresponding complexion. A habit of caring for souls is established; attention is drawn to the spiritual condition of those who are near; home missions spring up, and the fountain which is pouring forth its streams to fertilize some distant wilderness, overflows with living water to bless its native soil. How strikingly this is illustrated in the religious history of our own country! Call to remembrance the condition of England when the great missionary societies were first established. From that day God has blessed us with a reformed country and a revived religion.
In conclusion, consider the subject in relation to--
1. Ourselves. Here is the antidote to the evils of secularity, luxury, priestcraft, and scepticism.
2. Our society. Our successes should stimulate this love; our failures make an imperative demand upon it.
3. Our Church. Here strength at home will be in proportion to her prosperity abroad.
4. Our country. Missionary extension is its best defence. (J. Harding, M. A.)
The holiness tone
One day when I was with Mr. Hicks, the painter, I saw on his table some high-coloured stones, and I asked him what they were for. He said they were to keep his eye up to tone. When he was working in pigments, insensibly his sense of colour was weakened, and by having a pure colour near him he brought it up again, just as the musician, by his test fork, brings himself up to the right pitch. Now, every day men need to have a sense of the invisible God. A clear conception of the perfect One produces a moral impression; and it does not make any difference how you get it. If you are poetical you get it through the imagination. If you have large veneration you get it through that quality. If you are most easily affected through your emotions, you get it through these elements. If by the intellect, by the imagination, by the affections, or by the moral sentiments you are exalted into the conscious presence of God, then you have obtained that which renders prayer of transcendent value, and which gives tone to your whole nature. But no nature is of such magnitude that it does not need, every day, to be tuned, chorded, borne up to the ideal of a pure and lofty life. (H. W. Beecher.)
The savour of Christian holiness
Now give me a hundred men--not men that are glowing while they sing, and heavenly while they pray, though I would have them so; but men that are, morning, and noon, and night, born of God, and that so carry the savour of Christ that men coming into their presence say, “There is a Christian here,” as men passing a vintage say, “There are grapes here”--give me a hundred such men, and I will make the world believe. I do not ask to be shown the grapevine in the woods in June before I will believe it is there. I know that there are grapes near when the air is full of their odour; and the question under such circumstances always is, “Where is the vine?” and never, “What is it that I smell?” You are to be a savour of love, and peace, and gentleness, and gratitude, and thanksgiving, so that whenever you go, the essence of the truth that is in you shall go out to men. The most expressible thing in this world is the exquisite delicacy of a Christian grace. There are some excellent essences, like, for instance, the attar of roses, which you must not leave unstopped unless you would have it all exhaled; but the more a Christian grace exhales, the more there is in the bottle.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25